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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.

Colorado Makes History with First Legal Retail Marijuana Sales [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by Denver-based journalist Rebecca Chavez

For many people New Year's Eve means going to bars and celebrating with a night of drinking and carousing with their friends. For Adam Hartle and Anthony Hasham, the night was a little different. The duo flew into Denver from Jacksonville, Florida, in order to be first in line for Colorado's historic legal retail marijuana sales. Hartle and Hasham came prepared with a tent, and set up camp in front of 3D, Denver's Discrete Dispensary at 6:00pm on New Year's Eve. They were the first to arrive, making it even before the news cameras.

Adam Hartle and Anthony Hasham made the pilgrimage from Jacksonville, FL, to be first in line. (Rebecca Chavez)
While there are quite a few retail marijuana stores opening to the public on January 1, 3D was the place to be for those interested in being a part of history. The Marijuana Policy Project sent out a December 27 press release stating that they were recognizing the first sale at 3D as the first sale. With a press conference planned, and an Iraq war veteran slated to be the first retail customer, 3D was buzzing with excitement in the early hours of the new year.

There were over a dozen people standing around outside, eager to get their hands on some of the first retail marijuana sold in the country, but the majority of the crowd had a more professional purpose. News crews and industry insiders sat in the lobby of 3D, while owner Toni Fox rushed around talking to press and making last minute adjustments.

For Fox, the opening of 3D for retail sales has been a long process that is "the culmination of everything we've been working towards." Many dispensary owners planned to make the switch when they found out about Amendment 64, but Fox started planning in 2009. When she started looking for space for her dispensary, she did it with a retail location in mind. This early decision paid off in a big way when it came time to hand out marijuana licenses for the city of Denver. The retail space is large and well lit.

Denver's Discreet Dispensary (3D) is now open for sales to adults 21 and over. (Rebecca Chavez)
Unlike many other dispensaries, this retail location is completely separate from the medical area. Before sales start, the area is set up to help people find exactly what they need. Fox expects that a lot of people won't know what to do when they get to a retail marijuana facility, so she's tried to make purchasing easy for someone experiencing a dispensary for the first time.

She even made the decision to limit the retail edibles that she offers early on to only those from Dixie Elixer, one of the few edible companies set up for retail sales. This choice keeps people who want to try an edible for the first time from having to sift through a multitude of options.

The publicity of being the first marijuana store is a great boost for 3D, but Fox knows that there are some risks involved, especially regarding the much buzzed-about marijuana shortage. Though the limit for Colorado residents is higher, Fox decided that she wouldn't make any sales of more than the non-resident limit of seven grams. Still she is concerned.

The sign says it all. Welcome to a new era. (Rebecca Chavez)
When asked whether there is going to be enough product, she states that 3D should have enough to last until February. "Or Monday," she said, sharing a laugh with one of her employees while acknowledging that the truth about retail marijuana is that no one knows the extent of the demand just yet.

Judging from the size of the crowd inside the building right before the press conference began, the novelty of marijuana is going to drive a lot of people to businesses like 3D. Media sources from around the world jockeyed to get the best view of a small podium where the directors behind the Amendment 64 campaign prepared to say a few words about what retail sales mean for marijuana, and what the future brings.

This is business as usual for Mason Tvert, Betty Aldworth, and Brian Vicente, the organizers of the successful Amendment 64 campaign that made marijuana legal in Colorado and who have all been doing press conferences about it for years now. This one is a little more chaotic than usual, and that's because the message is so unique. Aldworth sums it up when she says that this moment is a shift, and that "marijuana sales will be a boon instead of a burden" on our communities and our economy.

From left: Toni Fox, Betty Aldworth, Mason Tvert, Sean Azzariti, Brian Vicente (Rebecca Chavez)
The first proof of this occurs with the very first sale. Sean Azzariti is a veteran who uses marijuana to treat his post traumatic stress disorder, but who cannot get medication because the state doesn't recognize PTSD as one of the ailments that allows for medical marijuana use.

For the first time, he will be able to legally purchase the marijuana that has helped him get through the years since he fought in the Iraq War. This sale will provide the city and state with valuable tax dollars, while also boosting the local economy and providing jobs for people who want to work in marijuana.

Cameras and reporters flooded into the retail sale room to document the moment of the first sale. Outside the building, the dozens of people lined up to purchasse legal marijuana kept multiplying. The line stretched across the length of the building and, despite the falling snow, people were all smiles as they awaited their chance to be a part of history.

As Tvert pointed out during the press conference, "Today there will be people around the nation buying marijuana," but only in Colorado is it legal and regulated.

Colorado has initiated a new era in marijuana policy in the United States, and Washington state will be joining later this year. With Alaska and Oregon both well-placed to legalize it this year via the initiative process, and with other states about to consider marijuana legalization bills in their legislatures, the beginning of the end of US marijuana prohibition has commenced.

Denver, CO
United States

Marijuana History Was Made in Denver This Morning!

Legal retail marijuana sales to adults got underway in Denver (and the rest of Colorado) a couple of hours ago. This is a historic day, as Amendment 64 finally goes into full effect.

The floodlights went on before dawn today, announcing the beginning of a new era (Rebecca Chavez)
We have a reporter on the scene, Rebecca Chavez, who wrote yesterday's story about dispensary owner Luke Ramirez, and Rebecca will be filing a story shortly.

But I didn't want to dally with shouting hosannas from the rooftops.

And I wanted to get this pic posted. It pretty much says it all.

Location: 
Denver, CO
United States

Legal Marijuana No Simple Matter for Colorado Retailers [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by Denver-based journalist Rebecca Chavez

Starting January 1, any person in Colorado over the age of 21 can walk into a retail marijuana facility and purchase marijuana with just a show of ID. While the process should be simple for those who choose to imbibe legally, things have not been so simple for the dispensary owners who have made the choice to sell retail marijuana. Luke Ramirez is one of these owners. His store, Walking Raven, sits on one of Denver's busiest streets.

For Ramirez, planning for retail marijuana sales began in February of 2012, when Walking Raven officially endorsed Amendment 64, the legalization initiative that won at the ballot that November. Even with almost two years of planning behind him, he finds that there are still a lot of hurdles to overcome. It wasn't until May of 2013 that Ramirez and other dispensary owners knew what would be expected of them by the state. Even with state legislation settled, Amendment 64 allows for municipalities to come up with even stricter rules for retail marijuana stores.

Denver started working on its own regulations in September, and wasn't done when the Chronicle spoke with Ramirez in late December. Though he was only the seventh person in the city of Denver to apply for a license, the constant changes mean that he won't be able to open until about January 10, over a week beyond the official start of recreational marijuana sales. In late December Ramirez was still getting calls about changes to marijuana laws at the city level.

The process has been similar for dispensary owners all over Denver, which means it might be one of the few places where a legal retail marijuana shortage will happen right away. The licensing for retail locations and retail grows is happening at the same time. This would be a problem for those trying to open on January 1, except that the state has allowed a one-time transfer of medical marijuana to retail. This transfer is how all stores will start, and it gives a little something extra to the consumer as well.

The edible companies have to go through the same process as other marijuana facilities, but some are opting out in the early stages. During the one time transfer, marijuana stores can make some edibles retail that otherwise wouldn't be available. This means some store owners are stockpiling certain items that they feel will be popular with retail consumers.

Ramirez has opted out of stockpiling because he simply can't afford it. The cost of selling retail marijuana is incredibly high, which prices smaller dispensaries out of an immediate switch. All told, Ramirez has spent $60,000 dollars going through the process of getting licensed and prepared to make the switch. Before he actually gets his license he expects to spend about $10,000 more.

Inside Walking Raven (Rebecca Chavez)
Money is a huge concern for retail marijuana dispensaries, and Ramirez is unsure of whether they will be able to make it all back during the first few months of retail sales. He acknowledges that the supply for retail just won't meet the demand, and worries that owners will see the same marijuana shortage that caused some of them to temporarily close their doors in 2012. This, of course, affects the people who work behind the counter. Ramirez wants to make sure that all of his employees are well-taken care of, but he acknowledges that he may have to cut back on hours at some point.

The marijuana shortage has another effect on the market. With marijuana prices possibly going as high as $70 for an eighth, Ramirez says that retail marijuana "won't get rid of the black market until supply meets demand."

In the meantime, his store and many others will have to compete with the grey market that has sprung up on Craigslist since the passage of Amendment 64.

Despite the many difficulties in his way, and the five inspections that he has to go through, Ramirez is confident that he is making the right choice. While he cannot sell retail marijuana at present, he is concerned to ensure that marijuana is still available for his current customers: medical marijuana patients.

"Patients definitely still need medicine," he says, and that's why he's sure to always have some on hand, segregated from retail marijuana for non-patients.

Retail and medical marijuana are sold in the same store, but they have to be kept in separate containers. Medicinal users can purchase retail, but retail consumers cannot get any of the medical marijuana regardless of a possible shortage. Despite eventual plans to sell only 10% of his product as medicinal, Ramirez is determined to always be able to take care of the patients.

They are, after all, the ones that supported him before the end of prohibition in Colorado.

Denver, CO
United States

Merry Christmas! Uruguay President Signs Marijuana Law

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has signed into law legislation making Uruguay the first country to create a legal, state-regulated marijuana industry. Mujica quietly signed the bill Monday night, the Associated Press reported.

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica as Santa (photo altered by Photomica -- Mujica wasn't really dressed like that)
Presidential secretary Diego Canepa confirmed the signing Tuesday.The signing was the last formal step in a process that began a year and a half ago, when Mujica's government first bruited the idea of legalization as a means of combating crime related to the black market.

Government officials now have 120 days to craft regulations for the marijuana market. Those regulations will deal with everything from growing to selling it in a network of pharmacies, as well as establishing rules around collective grows. The world's first fully legal, government-regulated marijuana marketplace should be up and running by mid-year next year.

But in the meantime, people can now begin growing their own marijuana at home -- up to six plants per family -- and keep an annual harvest of up to 480 grams (about one pound and one ounce).

Uruguay's neighbors are already beginning to take note. The governments of Argentina and Chile have already signaled that they will be taking new looks at marijuana policy in the wake of the Uruguayan move.

Montevideo
Uruguay

Chronicle AM -- December 24, 2013

The first business licenses for legal marijuana shops have been issued in Colorado, dispensaries are delayed in Nevada, hemp is on the agenda in Kentucky, and Uruguay's legalization example is causing reflection in the region. And more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

In Historic Move, Colorado Issues First General Marijuana Business Licenses. The Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division Monday issued 348 approved licenses for marijuana growers, processors, and retailers, making it the first state to issue such licenses. Some 136 of the licenses are for retail outlets. The marijuana business goes legit on January 1, although it's unclear how many pot shops will be open on day one.

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Wording of Legalization Initiative (Again). For the second time, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has rejected the wording of a proposed ballot measure to legalize marijuana. He said there were ambiguities in the wording of a proposed constitutional amendment submitted by Marjorie LeClair. McDaniel has approved the language of two other marijuana initiatives, both relating to medical marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Dispensaries Delayed in Nevada. Although the law allowing dispensaries to operate in Nevada goes into effect April 1, don't expect to see any then. The state Division of Public and Behavioral Health says it needs to hire more staff and that it could be four months after April 1 before licenses are accepted, reviewed, and approved.

Hemp

Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission to Meet Monday. The state's Industrial Hemp Commission will meet Monday, December 30, at 1:00pm at the office of Agriculture Commissioner James Comer to discuss the status of talks with the US Justice Department, hear reports from various committees, and present drafts of clean-up legislation and the annual commission report.

International

Uruguay Marijuana Legalization Prompting Neighbors to Rethink. Look out, it could be contagious! Uruguay's move to legalize marijuana is having a ripple effect in the region. Argentina' drug czar, Juan Carlos Molina, has now called for a public debate there about following Uruguay's footsteps, and said his boss, President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, wants a new approach, too. There are signs that Chile, too, may head down that path. Newly reelected socialist President Michelle Bachelet campaigned on reviewing marijuana's classification as a hard drug.

English-Language Details on Raided Belgian Cannabis Club. We reported last week on the harassment by police of the Mambo Cannabis Social Club in Hasselt, Belgium, and the arrest of its founder, Michel Degens, but the only link we had was in Dutch. Here, thanks to the folks at NORML UK, is an English language backgrounder and update on the situation. Click on the link.

Ban on Non-Dutch in Cannabis Cafes Not Illegal Nor Discriminatory, Advocate General Says. Leen Keus, the advocate general for the Council of State, said Tuesday that banning non-residents from cannabis cafes is not illegal nor discriminatory. The ban is not against Dutch, European, or international law, Keus said. His comments come as the Council of State, the country's highest administrative court, prepares a ruling on whether the government was correct in closing two Maastricht cannabis cafes because they refused to implement the ban. Among other things, the advocate general is charged with issuing legal opinions on matters before the court.

New Zealand Synthetic Cannabis Shop Draws Crowds, Controversy, Vandalism. New Zealand this year chose to regulate synthetic drugs instead of banning them, but that doesn't mean controversy and problems have gone away. The U njo Y shop in East Hamilton is drawing both large crowds of people who want to get high on synthetic cannabinoids and scathing criticism from some members of the community for the "anti-social behavior" it is accused of generating. And speaking of anti-social behavior, the shop is now the target of vandals, who have glued its doors shut and hurled marbles at its windows.

Chronicle AM -- December 23, 2013

The marijuana court judge was drunk, Dread Pirate Roberts wants his bitcoins back, Beto O'Rourke wants the Border Patrol to answer some questions, Rand Paul and Cory Booker tweet policy, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Florida "Marijuana Court" Judge Comes to Work Drunk. Florida Judge Gisele Pollack, who pioneered the notion of a "marijuana court," where misdemeanor pot offenders are steered toward treatment, showed up at work last Tuesday drunk out of her mind. When court staff tried to keep her off the bench, she responded, "Fuck you, you're fired." She was also reportedly screaming and crying as she demanded that her car keys be returned to her. She later told reporters she would be off for two weeks in "an intense outpatient program."

Medical Marijuana

Florida Signature-Gatherers Held Day of Action Saturday. Organizers for the campaign to put a medical marijuana initiative on the Florida ballot held a "Day of Action" Saturday as their effort heads into its final weeks. Supporters set up locations in 14 cities, including Daytona Beach and Orlando, where volunteers picked up and dropped off petitions. They need 700,000 to make the ballot, but are seeking to gather one million to have a cushion.

Asset Forfeiture

Silk Road's Dread Pirate Roberts Wants His Bitcoins Back. Ross Ulbricht, also known online as the Dread Pirate Roberts, is asking the federal government to return more than $30 million worth of bitcoins it seized after it shut down his Silk Road web site for allowing visitors to buy and sell illegal drugs and other contraband. Ulbricht argues in a legal filing that the currency should be returned because it isn't subject to civil forfeiture rules.

Law Enforcement

Beto O'Rourke Calls for Investigation into Heavy-Handed Border Drug Searches. US Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) is calling for an investigation into border drug search practices after, in the latest border search scandal, a New Mexico woman is suing after having been subjected to body cavity searches, including anal and vaginal probes while crossing into El Paso from Mexico. "Recent allegations brought against CBP for extreme and illegal searches are deeply troubling and, if true, completely unacceptable," O'Rourke said. "Individuals do not waive their constitutional or human rights simply because they choose to cross one of our international bridges. The war on drugs cannot be an excuse for sexual assault under the color of legal authority. Constitutional limits exist so that the rights of our citizens are protected and the government does not deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law," O'Rourke said. "CBP has a responsibility to ensure that all persons entering into our country are treated humanely and in accordance with our laws."

Sentencing Reform

Paul-Booker Tweet Fest Could Be Harbinger of Reform Alliance Next Year. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) engaged in a Twitter exchange today that could augur cooperation on moving forward with sentencing reform and marijuana and hemp legalization next year. Both are among the highest-profile senators seeking sentencing reform. Read the exchange at the link.

International

A Thousand Rally for Marijuana Legalization in Tel Aviv. More than a thousand people rallied in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square Saturday night in favor of marijuana legalization and easing restrictions on medical marijuana. Likud lawmaker Moshe Feiglin and Meretz lawmaker Tamar Zandberg have proposed a bill that would legalize marijuana and ease access to it for medical use.

Costa Rica Presidential Candidates Not Keen On Marijuana Legalization. Costa Rica's two leading presidential candidates have said they do not support the full legalization of marijuana in Costa Rica. Proponents of medical marijuana, however, might glean some hope from the candidates' responses. Front-runners Johnny Araya of the National Liberation Party and Jose Maria Villalta of the Broad Front are lukewarm at best on marijuana reform. Araya said "I'm against legalizing marijuana in Costa Rica," while Villalta, while not endorsing legalization, at least called for "a broad national dialogue" on the issue.

Alaska Marijuana Legalization Petition Passes Goal

With nearly a month to go before their signature-gathering deadline, organizers of an Alaska marijuana legalization initiative are well-placed to qualify for the ballot, but it's not a sure thing yet. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana told local media outlets last week they have already gathered almost 45,000 signatures, nearly half again the 31,169 valid voter signatures they need to take the issue to voters.

Campaigners said they would continue to seek signatures up until a January 21 deadline. Initiative campaigners want a healthy number of excess signatures because they must assume that some number of signatures will be deemed invalid.

A common rule of thumb is that 25% to 30% of gathered signatures will be ruled invalid. As things now stand, if 30% of the signatures were found invalid, it would barely qualify.

If the measure qualifies for the ballot, Alaska could become the next state to legalize marijuana because even if other states qualify initiatives for the November ballot, Alaskans would vote on their measure in August.

The initiative backed by the Marijuana Policy Project would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by persons 21 and over and allow the cultivation of up to six plants (only three in flowering) and the possession of their harvests.

It would also direct the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to develop rules and regulations for legal, taxable commercial marijuana cultivation, processing, and sales, and to do so within nine months. The legislature would have the option of instead creating a Marijuana Control Board to oversee regulation.

The initiative would allow localities to opt-out of legal marijuana commerce via local ordinance or vote, and it sets a wholesale transfer excise tax of $50 an ounce.

AK
United States

Chronicle AM -- December 19, 2013

Today we have a plethora of pot polls, hope on banking, an important decision by Washington state regulators, and hints of change to come from Canada's Tories, among other news. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

AP Poll Finds Opposition to Legalization Declining. In a poll released Thursday, the Associated Press found opposition to legalizing small amounts of marijuana declining, from 55% in 2010 to 29% now. At the same time, the poll reported support for legalization rising from 33% to 36%. The poll included an option for "neither support nor oppose," with 33% choosing that response. While support is up slightly, according to the poll, a good chunk of those opposed in 2010 have moved to "neither support nor oppose" now.

Wall Street Journal Poll Explores Attitudes on Where Marijuana Should Be Sold. In a poll released Thursday, the Wall Street Journal found that the most popular locations where Americans wanted legal nmarijuana to be sold were pharmacies (69%), followed by pot shops (60%), liquor stores (39%), coffee shops (17%), and supermarkets (13%). The poll also reported that 53% said the sale and possession of small amounts should not be legal, but that 80% said it should be regulated like alcohol. Go figure.

Arizona Pot Polls All Over the Place. Three Arizona polls on marijuana legalization have come up with wildly different results. Two polls from earlier in the year had support for legalization at 56% and 60%, but one just released had support at only 39%. That one is from Susquehanna Polling and Research, which only does polls for candidates who are Republicans and which had Romney beating Obama in Pennsylvania three days before the 2012 election. Obama won the state by five points.

Relief on Banking Could Come Early Next Year. Marijuana businesses could enjoy access to banking and financial services early next year, Jack Finlaw, chief legal counsel to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said Thursday. "What we're being told," Finlaw said during a teleconference, "is probably in the first quarter of 2014 there will be some guidance issued that's comparable to the Cole memo from the Department of Justice that will give, maybe not a green light, but a yellow light to banks to allow them to do business [with marijuana businesses] -- to take deposits, to set up checking accounts, to set up small business loans, to allow these businesses to accept purchases through debit cards or credit cards, to allow what normal businesses are allowed to do." The comment comes after a meeting of the Bank Secrecy Advisory Group in Washington, DC, last week.

St. Louis Legalization Debate Packs 'Em In. A Wednesday night debate on marijuana legalization filled the St. Louis Ethical Society to overflowing as Show Me Cannabis Regulation executive director John Payne took on Missouri Narcotics Officers Association vice president John Grellner for 90 minutes of heated, but polite debate. Show Me Cannabis is working to put a legalization initiative on the ballot next year.

Medical Marijuana

Washington Regulators Recommend Letting Patients Keep Their Personal Grows, But Eliminating Collective Grows. The state Liquor Control Board has reversed itself and is now recommending that patients be able to keep their grows of up to six plants. "Allow home grows and the ability for a qualified patient or designated provider to possess marijuana plants. A qualified patient or designated provider may possess 6 plants, 3 flowering and 3 nonflowering," the board recommended. But it also recommended eliminating collective gardens, the backbone of the state's dispensary system.

New York Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Long Island Public Hearing. A medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Care Act, got a public hearing Wednesday in the chamber of the Nassau County Legislature. It had one earlier this month in Buffalo. The hearings are designed to mount public pressure on the state Senate to get the bill through.

International

UN Security Council Has "Deep Concerns" About West African Drug Trade. In a presidential statement Wednesday after a briefing from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the UN Security Council expressed "deep concern" about a growing drug trade in West Africa and its links to terrorism. Ki-moon told the Security Council $1.2 billion worth of cocaine transits the region each year, where governments are weak, borders are porous, and extremists are on the march.

Canada's Tories to Modernize Marijuana Laws? Canada's governing Conservatives could modify the country's pot laws, Justice Minister Peter McKay hinted Wednesday. Fining marijuana users instead of arresting them is one possibility, he said. "That doesn't mean decriminalizing or legalizing, but it does mean giving police options, for example, to issue fines in addition to any other sanctions, or as a substitute for other sanctions," MacKay told QMI Agency. "These are things that we are willing to look at in the new year, but there's been no decision taken."

Guatemala Considers Legalizing Opium Growing

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina and other government officials said repeatedly this week that they are considering legalizing and regulating opium poppy production in areas where it is already being grown illicitly.

That's something of a surprise, but perhaps it shouldn't be. According to a Guatemalan press report, the proposal is one of a group of reform recommendations made by Amanda Fielding of the Beckley Foundation, the British drug reform and legalization group, which has had an office in the country since last year. 

Perez Molina has been talking a good game about alternatives to prohibition--and he just days ago stuck up for Uruguay in the wake of criticism of its marijuana legalization--but he has yet to actually do anything dramatic. This could be it.

I'll write more about this interesting development during the daylight hours.

In the meantime, a Spanish-language article from Prensa Libre is available here.

And there's an English-language article from Newsroom Panama available here.

Location: 
Guatemala

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