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

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

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

#1 Uruguay Legalizes Marijuana

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

#2 The Global Prohibition Regime is Under Increasing Attack

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

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

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

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

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

#5 The Dark Net Emerges as a Drug Marketplace

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

#6 Mexico: New President, Same Old Drug War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#10 Colombian Peace Negotiations Progress

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

Chronicle AM -- January 2, 2014

The New Year starts off with a whole bunch of marijuana news, the DEA Cartagena prostitution scandal gets an update, another Republican governor calls for welfare drug testing, and a South Korean comedian gets hammered for toking up. And more. Let's get to it:

South Korean comedian and actress Song In Hwa gets sent to jail for smoking pot. (Facebook)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Marijuana Stores Open for Business; Sky Doesn't Fall, But Crowds Form. Crowds of would-be customers braved long lines in frigid, snow-blown conditions Wednesday to be able to participate in the historic first day of legal retail marijuana sales to adults in Colorado. The biggest apparent problem was feared supply shortages, leading some retailers to either limit purchases to a quarter-ounce (state law allows purchases of up to an ounce for residents) or raise prices, or both.

Washington State Marijuana Business Applications Top 5,000. As of year's end, state officials have processed more than 5,000 marijuana business applications, the state Liquor Control Board, which is in charge of the process, said Tuesday. There were 1,312 applications for retail outlets, but the state plans to cap their number at 324, so there will be competition. There were also 2,113 applications for cultivation licenses and 1,512 for processing facilities. And there will be more. Although the application window closed December 20, officials are still processing backlogged applications.

New Hampshire House to Vote This Month on Legalizing Marijuana. The New Hampshire House will vote later this month on a bill that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults 21 and over. But even if it passes the House, it faces an uphill battle. Last year, the Senate rejected a bill to decriminalize a quarter-ounce, and Gov. Margaret Hassan (D) opposed even decrim.

Vermont Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced. State Sen. David Zuckerman (P-Chittenden) has introduced a bill to tax, regulate, and legalize the production, sale, and use of marijuana, but he said he doubted it would pass this year. The state decriminalized possession last year, and Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has said legalization isn't a priority this year. The Marijuana Policy Project said it would use this year to build a consensus for legalization, with an eye on 2015.

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Coming Back in Hawaii. Marijuana decriminalization got through the state Senate last year, but got stuck in the House. Proponents will try again this year, Pam Lichty of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii told local media.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Law Goes Into Effect. Illinois' medical marijuana law went into effect on New Year's Day. Sort of. Patients aren't protected until they have signed up with a state registry, which will not be open until the spring at the earliest, and regulatory agencies are going to spend the next four months establishing rules and regulations for cultivation and distribution. Cultivation applications might be accepted by the fall. In the meantime, the state has created the Medical Marijuana Pilot Program web site, which will have updates and information on the state's progress.

Washington State Wants Medical Marijuana Businesses to Pay Taxes. The state Department of Revenue said Tuesday it will send letters to several hundred medical marijuana businesses informing them that they need to be registered and paying taxes. The department is giving the businesses until January 24 to comply. Some medical marijuana businesses already pay taxes, but others don't, arguing that medical marijuana should be treated like prescription drugs, which are untaxed.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Governor to Push for Welfare Drug Testing. In an interview with the Associated Press, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) said he wants to require drug tests for recipients of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Bryant's comments came just hours after a federal judge threw out Florida's suspicionless welfare drug testing law as unconstitutional and as "reasonable suspicion" welfare drug testing laws in states like Utah and Minnesota have come under fire as costly and unnecessary.

Law Enforcement

Sleazy Details of DEA Cartagena Prostitution Scandal Emerge. A FOIA request from Foreign Policy has resulted in the release of a Justice Department Office of the Inspector General report on the scandal surrounding Secret Service and DEA agents who accompanied President Obama to the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, in April 2012. The report is full of juicy, sleazy detail on agents making dozens of calls to prostitutes on their government-issued cell phones, searching for dates with transvestite prostitutes, and seeking to redefine "sex" as not including paying hookers to masturbate them and "prostitution" as not what they had engaged in by paying hookers for sex acts. The OIG said that latter claim defied "common sense and legal definitions." Click on the link for more.


South Korean Comedian Gets Six Months in Jail for Smoking Pot. South Korean comedian Song In Hwa was sentenced to six months in prison last Saturday after she was found guilty of using marijuana on two separate occasions, one of them in a Las Vegas hotel room, the other one with her older sister in an unspecified location. The older sister got hit even harder, getting two years in prison. Both sisters also received additional years of jail time with the remainder of the sentences suspended. "Marijuana use by a celebrity is not a light crime given its bad influence on society, but considering the defense's recognition of the crime, her reflection, and the fact that it was only two times, we gave her a suspended sentence," the court said.

Peru Will Seek to Increase Coca Eradication This Year. Peru has set a target of eradicating 75,000 acres of coca this year, the head of the country's anti-drug agency, DEVIDA, said Wednesday. That's up from about 58,000 acres actually eradicated last year. Peru has surpassed Colombia as the world's number one coca and cocaine producer, and the government of President Ollanta Humala has taken an increasingly hard line against illicit coca-growing. Eradication efforts will target the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro river valleys (VRAEM). The government also plans alternative development and crop substitution schemes for some 75,000 coca-growing families.

TNI Issues Report on Corruption and Drug-Related Violence in Rosario, Argentina. The Transnational Institute has released the first report in its new Briefing Series on Drug Markets and Violence, focusing on the interior Argentine city of Rosario. Illicit drug trafficking and associated violence and corruption went unremarked there until the killing on New Year's Day 2012 of three community activists sparked attention. Click on the link for the full report

Dutch Crackdown on Marijuana Grow Leads to Increased German Cultivation. German police said Thursday that they have seen a large increase in marijuana grows in empty buildings in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania. They blame a Dutch crackdown on marijuana growers that has been in place since 2011. Since then, German cops in the state have busted 50 big grows, up from one or two a year before then.

Swansea University Global Drug Policy Observatory Up and Running. The recently created Global Drug Policy Observatory at Britain's Swansea University, whose goal is "promoting evidence and human rights based drug policy through the comprehensive and rigorous reporting, monitoring and analysis of policy developments at national and international levels," is open for business. Check out its new web site by clicking on the link above.

Chronicle AM -- December 18, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Harm Reduction

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


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


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

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

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

Chronicle AM -- December 13, 2013

It looks like Washington state medical marijuana patients will continue to be able to grow their own, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes wants to welcome pot tourists, the Michigan Senate takes aim at welfare drug users, Indian Maoists are profiting from prohibition, and more. Let's get to it:

India's Maoist Naxalities -- profiting from prohibition. (
Marijuana Policy

Seattle City Attorney Wants to Accommodate Pot Tourists. Seattle City Attorney Peter Holmes has warned the city council against passing rules that will make it harder for tourists to enjoy legal marijuana. "We need to recognize that tourists are coming to this state to sample wine, to sample Washington marijuana, to sample any of the attributes of this destination city; that we accommodate that somehow," he told KPLU FM.

Medical Marijuana

Washington State Leaning Toward Allowing Home Medical Marijuana Grows. Members of the state Liquor Control Board signaled Friday they will recommend medical marijuana patients continue to be allowed to grow their own medicine. The state Health and Revenue departments and the liquor board had earlier proposed outlawing home growing once I-502 takes effect, but aroused a storm of outrage from patients and their supporters. The board is expected to formally recommend allowing the grows next week.

Colorado Could Cut Patient Fees. State health officials want to reduce the fee paid by licensed medical marijuana patients. The Board of Health will hear a proposal next week to drop the annual fee from $35 to $15. That's because the fund that pays for the patient registry has a $13 million surplus, and the fee is not supposed to be about generating revenue, just paying for the costs of the program. There are nearly 113,000 registered patients in the state.

Second Hearing Held on Guam Medical Marijuana Bill. A pending medical marijuana bill on Guam got a second public hearing Thursday. The island's public health director said he could not support the bill because there was no funding for regulation, but patients and medical marijuana supporters testified in support of the bill. The measure, Senate Bill 215, remains alive, and cosponsor Sen. Tina Muna Barnes said she was working on amendments based on feedback from the public.

Drug Testing

Michigan Senate Approves Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The Michigan Senate Thursday approved Senate Bill 275, which would set up a pilot program to start subjecting some welfare recipients to drug testing. Recipient would be screened and those for whom there was "a reasonable suspicion" of drug use would have to submit to a drug test. A first failed drug test would result in a referral to treatment, a second would result in loss of benefits. The Republican-supported bill passed on a straight party line vote. Similar legislation has been approved in the House.


Report Reviews Changes in Federal Sentencing Since Booker. A new report, Legal Change and Sentencing Norms in Federal Court: An Examination of the Impact of the Booker, Gall, and Kimbrough Decisions, finds that not that much has changed. A series of Supreme Court decisions beginning with Booker held that federal sentencing guidelines are merely advisory, and expectations were that their impact would be significant. But "the findings suggest that sentencing policy changes at the national level -- including reforms mandated by these cases -- neither uniformly nor dramatically transformed sentencing practices. Factors in individual cases were the largest predictor of sentencing outcomes over all time periods. Sentencing behavior across districts changed incrementally over time but did not dramatically shift during major policy changes."


Indian Maoists (Again) Linked to Black Market Marijuana Trade. India's long-festering revolutionary Maoist movement, the Naxalites, is once again linked to the illicit trade in drugs. Officials in Odisha are complaining that they cannot eradicate the Naxalites until they "have control over the illegal cultivation of cannabis, which, according to intelligence sources, has become a major source of funding for the Maoists." Six of eight named districts where large-scale pot growing is "a well known fact" are known as "highly Naxal-infested districts." The state government is engaged in manual eradication, but is considering aerial spraying.

Costa Rica Public Opinion Not Ready for Marijuana Legalization. Costa Rica is not ready to legalize marijuana, according to a new public opinion poll. The survey from the School of Statistics at the University of Costa Rica found that only 15% favored legalization, while 50% were opposed. Medical marijuana fared better, with 53% in favor.

British Activist to Open "Cannabis Café" in Manchester. Notorious marijuana activist Colin Davies, who once handed a bouquet of flowers including marijuana to the queen, has announced plans to open a cannabis café in Manchester. Davis, who was once jailed for marijuana trafficking, said no pot would be sold at the café; instead it will be BYOB. Marijuana remains a Class B drug in Britain, so Davis should be looking for a police reaction.

Chronicle AM -- November 29, 2013

Uruguay's marijuana legalization bill passes another hurdle, a Berlin borough wants cannabis cafes, Chicago proposes tough medical marijuana regulations, Kentucky officials hound the DEA about hemp, and more. Let's get to it:

Is this the face of marijuana legalization? Uruguayan President Jose Mujica (
Medical Marijuana

Chicago Proposes Strict Medical Marijuana Regulations. Chicago officials have proposed regulations that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries and grows only in manufacturing districts, would limit the number of grows to 22, and would require that dispensaries and grows be at least 2,500 feet from a school, day care center, or residential area. Medical marijuana becomes legal in Illinois on January 1.

Michigan Appeals Court to Hear Cases on Unemployment Benefits. The Michigan Appeals Court has agreed to hear two cases to determine whether someone fired for using medical marijuana can collect unemployment benefits. Lower court judges have overturned state agency rulings denying the benefits, but medical marijuana foe Attorney General Bill Schuette argues that the law only protects people from criminal prosecutions, not civil penalties.


Kentucky Officials Send Letter to DEA Requesting Clarification on Hemp. Kentucky officials have sent a letter to the DEA asking for clarification of its position on industrial hemp. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, US Sen. Rand Paul (R), and US Reps. John Yarmouth and Thomas Massie want the agency to tell them whether growing hemp in states that have enacted a regulatory framework remains illegal. They point to the federal government's response to marijuana legalization and argue that hemp should be treated the same way.

Drug Testing

Idaho Supreme Court Upholds Drug Possession Conviction Based Solely on Drug Test. Idaho's high court Tuesday upheld the conviction of a woman charged with drug possession after blood from her newborn child's umbilical cord tested positive for methadone. The court held unanimously that the drug test result was probable cause to support a possession conviction.


Uruguay Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. Uruguay is one step closer to becoming the first country to legalize the marijuana trade after the Senate Health Commission voted Thursday to approve the bill. The government-supported legislation has already passed the lower house and is expected to win final approval in the Senate next month.

Cannabis Cafes Coming to Berlin? Legislators in the hip Berlin borough of Friedrichschain-Kruezberg voted Thursday to approve cannabis coffee shops there. The move is the brainchild of Green Party Mayor Monika Hermann, who proposed it in September. Now, the borough must get the German federal government to agree. Under Article 3 of the German Narcotics Act, sufficient public interest could lead to law changes, provided there is public support and backing scientific evidence.

European Cancer Docs Say Restrictive Laws Aimed at Drug Abuse Block Millions from Pain Relief. The European Society for Medical Oncology warned that half the world's population lacks effective access to pain relievers because of restrictive laws aimed at reducing drug abuse. The group's Global Opioid Policy Initiative survey estimated that millions of cancer patients don't have access to seven cheap medicines essential for pain relief, including morphine and codeine. Access to such drugs "is catastrophically difficult" in many countries, the report's lead author said.

British Tories, Lib Dems At Odds Over Drug Policy. Britain's governing coalition is at odds with itself over drug policy after the new Liberal Democrat drugs minister, Norman Baker, said earlier this week that marijuana legalization "should be considered." That caused Conservative front-bencher and Justice Minister Chris Grayling to clarify that he and the Home Office "won't be considering it."

Northern Nigeria Alcohol Crackdown Sees 240,000 Bottles of Beer Destroyed. In attempt to deepen a sharia law ban on alcohol imposed in 2001, but largely ignored in hotels and the city's Christian quarter, Islamic police in the northern city of Kano destroyed 240,000 bottles of beer. They chanted "God is great" as they did so, and the head of the religious police warned that they will put an end to alcohol consumption. Multiple bombings of bars in the Christian quarter in late July carried out by suspected Islamic militants who complained the government wasn't enforcing sharia law adequately left 29 dead.

Peru Eradicates Record Amount of Coca. Peru, once again the world's largest coca and cocaine producer, announced Thursday that it had eradicated a record 55,000 acres of coca, about one-fifth of the total estimated 250,000-acre crop. That's a 60% increase in eradication over last year. The government said the increase was due to tougher anti-drug efforts and a weakening of the Shining Path in coca growing areas.

Israel Medical Marijuana Use up 30% This Year. Medical marijuana use is up sharply this year in Israel, according to the Health Ministry, which released figures showing 13,000 patients were approved to us it this year, up from 10,000 last year. The increase comes as the government is working on a new proposal to regulate medical marijuana. The Health, Agriculture, and Public Security ministries are expected to present it within the next couple of weeks.

Chronicle AM -- November 21, 2013

Movement toward legal marijuana commerce continues in Washington, movement toward dispensaries continues in Massachusetts, medical marijuana polls very well in Florida, and more. Let's get to it:

Coming soon to a Washington state retail store near you.
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Marijuana Business License Applications Pile Up. As of Wednesday morning, the state Department of Revenue had received 585 completed applications for marijuana business licenses in the two days since the process opened up Monday. They include 27 applications for processors, 134 for growers, 144 for retailers, and 280 for operations doing both growing and processing. The state foresees 334 marijuana retail outlets. The number of growers and processors remains to be seen, but regulators want to limit legal production to two million square feet statewide.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Poll: Crist 47%, Scott 40%, Medical Marijuana 82%. A new Quinnipiac poll has support for medical marijuana in Florida at 82%, the greatest support for medical marijuana ever polled there, and nearly as much as the support for the leading gubernatorial contenders combined. The poll comes as People United for Medical Marijuana is in the midst of a signature-gathering campaign to put an initiative on the 2014 ballot. The poll strongly suggests that if the initiative can make the ballot, it will win.

Last Day for Dispensary Proposals in Massachusetts. Today is the deadline for the 158 qualified applicants seeking to open medical marijuana dispensaries in the Bay State. They are vying to be one of the 35 dispensaries envisioned by state law. In the second phase of the selection process, applicants will now go before a committee that will score their applications on a number of factors, including ability to meet the health needs of patients, appropriateness of the location, geographic distribution, local support, and plans to ensure public safety.

New Mexico's Bernalillo County Bans County Employees from Using Medical Marijuana. Bernalillo County (Albuquerque), the state's most populous county, has banned the use of medical marijuana by county workers under a new policy issued November 12 by County Manager Tom Zdunek. Zdunek cited federal prohibition and county policy as reasons for the ban. "This is a backwards policy that will prevent people who are suffering from accessing the medicine that works for them," said Jessica Gelay, policy coordinator for Drug Policy Alliance in New Mexico. "It is unconscionable that the County Manager would unilaterally attempt to deny Bernalillo County employees the right to use a medicine recommended by their physician. Patients deserve above all else, the freedom to choose the safest and most effective treatment for their disabling conditions -- whatever that treatment might be. It is time to stop demonizing marijuana and creating a double standard for prescription medications."

Cannabis Oil for Kids Greeted Warmly at Utah Capitol. Parents seeking access to cannabis oils for their epileptic children got a warm reception at a pair of committee hearings at the statehouse Wednesday. This is only a first step; there is no bill pending, but the response from lawmakers was largely positive, especially if such "hemp supplements" contained only small amounts of THC. There are about 10,000 Utah kids suffering from "refractory seizures" from epilepsy, and 35 of them are on a Colorado waiting list for a cannabis extract called Alepsia.

Drug Testing

Minnesota Now Drug Testing Public Benefits Recipients with Drug Felonies. People with a previous drug felony who are receiving or seeking public benefits are now subject to random drug testing under a law passed by the legislature in 2012. Those programs are the Minnesota Family Investment Program, General Assistance Program, Minnesota Supplemental Aid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. About 1% of state public benefits have felony drug records, similar to the proportion in the general population.


Myanmar Opium Eradication Campaign Falls Short. Opium eradicators in Myanmar's southern Shan State have fallen well short of wiping out the poppy crop. Police had planned to eradicate 30,000 acres of poppy in the past 30 days, but only actually destroyed about 4,600 acres, or 13% of the target. They blamed manpower shortages, poor road links, and a flawed crop substitution program for their failure to meet their targets. Myanmar is the world's second largest opium producer, but lags far behind Afghanistan, which produces about 90% of the illicit global supply.

Tanzania Scolded on Need for Drug Reform, Harm Reduction. The Tanzanian government needs to come up with a harm reduction strategy for drug users and reform its drug laws, Doctors of the World harm reduction specialist Damali Lucas told a Dar es Salaam press conference Monday. The country's 1995 drug law does not differentiate between someone holding a small amount of drugs and someone holding large amounts, she noted. She also called for a harm reduction policy to be implemented to address the spread of HIV and related illnesses.

Peru Retakes Spot as World's #1 Coca Producer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


California Volunteer Marijuana Eradicator Falls to His Death

A volunteer for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife fell out of a helicopter and died while authorities were conducting a marijuana eradication effort in Tulare County Thursday. Shane Krogen becomes the 29th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Krogen was supervising the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew and supporting Operation PRISTINE in a remote part of Sequoia National Forest when he died. Operation PRISTINE's remit is "to eradicate and reclamate the most polluted illegal marijuana grow sites in California."

"Shane's dedication to California's natural resources was extraordinary," state Department of Fish and Wildlife Assistant Chief John Baker said in a statement. "He and his crew have worked tirelessly for several years to maintain access to the high Sierra for all Californians."

The incident remains under investigation.

United States

India Police to Spray Maoist Rebels' Marijuana Crops

Police in the eastern Indian state of Orissa said Friday they planned to use aerial spraying to eradicate marijuana crops cultivated by Maoists rebels, the Times of India reported. There was no mention of what agent might be used to kill the crops.

Maoist Naxalite rebels (
For decades, the Maoist rebels, also known as Naxalites, have waged a low-level guerrilla campaign against the Indian state beginning in West Bengal in the 1970s. Their presence has spread through eastern and southern India, and by 2006, they boasted 20,000 cadre in arms and another 50,000 in close support.

The Indian government went on the offensive against the Naxalites in 2009 and has managed to reduce the groups' presence and the number of casualties since then. But Naxalites remain an active force; in May, they attacked an Indian National Congress rally in Chhattisgarh, killing 29 people, including high ranking party members.

Police said Friday that farmers are growing marijuana at the behest of the Naxalites in remote districts where it is difficult for them to go, and that spraying would be the best option.

"Cannabis cultivation and its trade is a major source of income for Maoists. To clip their wings, we have to clampdown on cannabis cultivation," said a senior police official. "We are exploring the possibility of using aerial spray to destroy cannabis in remote areas of the state," he said.

Police, joined by excise, revenue, and forest service officers have already been eradicating pot fields, but managed to destroy only 1300 acres last year and 1500 the year before that. They said marijuana production was prevalent in Rayagada, Malkangiri, Gajapati, Kandhamal, Angul, Sambalpur and Boudh districts.


De Facto Hash Truce in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley

The Lebanese government will not attempt to eradicate marijuana fields blooming across the country's Bekaa Valley, Beirut's Daily Star newspaper reported Friday. Sources cited by the Star said it was because of the fragile security situation in the area near the border with Syria and because the government had been unable to live up to pledges to provide financial compensation to farmers whose crops were destroyed last year.

marijuana field, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon (
They are also up against Bekaa Valley marijuana farmers in no mood to see their livelihood messed with.

"In the absence of alternatives, we will break the hands and legs of anyone who dares destroy our crops," one of the region's biggest growers, Ali Nasri Shamas, told the Daily Star. "We will not be gentle with [the security forces] like we usually are," added Shamas, who is wanted on several arrest warrants, including on a charge of attacking the Army. "It will be a full-blown war if necessary."

This after last year's eradication effort led to clashes between would-be eradicators and farmers armed with rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars. Those clashes, which resulted in the destruction of bulldozers hired by the government to plow under pot fields, ended only when the government promised to pay compensation to farmers. That didn't happen. The Finance Ministry said it didn't have the money.

This year, although the Higher Defense Council had fighting drug cultivation on the agenda this week, sources told the Daily Star that a "tacit agreement" last month between government officials and local leaders from the Baalbek-Hermel region in the northern Bekaa meant that eradication efforts weren't going to happen this year.

"The Army is exhausted by the roving security incidents and the farmers are poor and angry," said a political source. "Everyone wants to avoid a major confrontation with the military. No one wants carnage."

The Syrian civil war raging next door has led to repeated clashes inside Lebanon, especially since the open involvement of Hezbollah members in the fighting earlier this year. The Bekaa Valley is also a Hezbollah stronghold.

Lebanese hash provided funding for feuding militias in the Lebanese civil war between 1975 and 1990, and grew into a multi-billion dollar industry before the government cracked down under international pressure in the late 1990s. But its eradication campaigns have often generated violent clashes, and promised alternative development schemes have failed to materialize.

Now, the marijuana fields are back in a big war. The Daily Star described roads in the Bekaa Valley "lined with dark green cannabis fields."

This year's pot crop would be "wonderful," Shamas said. "We moved from 5,000 dunums of cannabis-cultivated land to 45,000 dunums," he said. (A dunum is about a quarter of an acre.) There is no shortage of dealers to buy the resulting hashish, he said, adding that it was destined for markets in Egypt, Turkey, and Europe.

While Shamas reveled in his anti-government outlaw status, other marijuana farmers said they had few other options. "We have no other choice," said Abu Asaad from Yammouneh. "Our region is highly poor and neglected and I prefer planting cannabis to turning into a bandit or a car thief."

The farmers scoffed at international aid and alternative development programs, saying they had been a bad joke.

"It's high time international donors realize that their money is not spent to devise tangible agricultural policies, but rather goes straight to the pockets of officials," Abu Asaad said. "Eradication campaigns are carried out at our expense and used to secure more funds, which will surely be embezzled."

Meanwhile, to save face, Lebanese authorities may do some Potemkin eradication.

"The police and Army might destroy a small plot of land where cannabis is grown in the next few weeks just to demonstrate that they have not dropped the ball on the matter, but I totally rule out a large-scale campaign," a source told the Daily Star.


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