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Chronicle AM -- June 30, 2014

The Big Dog opines on marijuana, a California sentencing reform initiative qualifies for the ballot, the DC legalization initiative looks poised to make the ballot, municipal decrim initiative campaigns are underway in New Mexico's largest cities, the drug war is driving grand jury indictments in an East Texas county, and more. Let's get to it:

Bill Clinton is ready to let the states experiment on marijuana policy. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

DC Legalization Initiative Poised to Make Ballot. The DC Cannabis Campaign is reporting that it has gathered more than 60,000 signatures to place its initiative to legalize home-growing and possession of marijuana on the November ballot. It only needs 22,600 valid voter signatures to qualify. The signature-gathering period ends next week.

Albuquerque, Santa Fe Decriminalization Initiatives Begin Signature-Gathering. Organizers of municipal decriminalization initiatives in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, began signature-gathering last Saturday. The Drug Policy Alliance's political action arm, Drug Policy Action, is behind the effort. Some 5,700 signatures are needed in Santa Fe and 11,000 in Albuquerque.

Bill Clinton Talks Pot. Former President Bill Clinton was asked on Meet the Press Sunday whether "giving pot a chance" would help governments raise revenue. Here's his response: "Rocky Mountain high?" Clinton quipped. "Look, I think there's a lot of evidence to argue for the medical marijuana thing. I think there are a lot of unresolved questions, but I think we should leave it to the states, if there really is a time when there should be laboratories of democracy because nobody really knows where this is going. Are there adequate quality controls? There's pot and then there's pot. What's in it? There's all these questions, and I think that I like where it is now. If a state wants to try it, they can. And then they'll be able to see what happens."

Washington State Faces Marijuana Shortages, High Prices. With the first retail marijuana shops slated to open in less than 10 days, Washington state is facing a legal marijuana shortage, which is expected to drive up prices. Only 79 of the more than 2,600 people who applied for growing licenses have been approved, and many of them aren't ready to harvest. Pounds being sold to retailers now are going for as much as $4,000, which comes out to $9 a gram before taxes. After a retailers' mark up, the 25% excise tax, and state and local sales taxes, gram prices could be in the $15-20 range -- above the price on the black market.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Initiative Has More than 75,000 Signatures. The constitutional amendment medical marijuana initiative sponsored by Oklahomans for Health now has 75,000 raw signatures. The group needs 156,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. They have until August 17 to come up with more.

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Advances, But Needs Work. A bill to regulate California's medical marijuana industry, Senate Bill 1262, passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee last Friday, but is described as "unworkable, incoherent, and unacceptable to most advocates." Committee approval was conditioned on working out the problems before hearings in the Appropriations Committee in August.

Sentencing

California Sentencing Reform Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act sentencing reform initiative has qualified for the November ballot, the secretary of state's office announced last Friday. Backed by San Francisco DA George Gascon and San Diego Police Chief William Landsdowne, the initiative would defelonize some drug possession offenses, as well as making some other crimes misdemeanors instead of felonies.

Law Enforcement

Drug War Accounts for Big Chunk of Upshur County, Texas, Grand Jury Indictments. The Upshur County Grand Jury returned its latest batch of indictments last week, and of the 26 indictments, 11 of them (43%) were for drug charges. Of the drug charges, six were possession of methamphetamine, three were meth sales, and two were for cocaine sales.

International

Crackdown on Anti-Cartel Vigilantes in Michoacan, Mexico. Mexican soldiers and police arrested 83 suspected vigilantes last Friday in Michoacan after they encountered them carrying unauthorized weapons. Among those arrested was Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles, one of the founders of the vigilante groups, which formed in response to harassment, extortion, and lawlessness perpetrated by the region's Knights Templar cartel. The vigilantes were supposed to have joined rural police forces, but Mireles and his men had not done that and had instead begun organizing a new vigilante group. He and his men were arrested when they set up roadblocks around the port city of Lazaro Cardenas.

Zambian Government Says No Marijuana Legalization. Responding to increasing calls for marijuana legalization to improve the economy, the government says no way. Home Affairs Minister Ngosa Simbyakula said last Friday that the government remains determined not to legalize marijuana. It would encourage drug use in the country, he said.

Chronicle AM -- June 27, 2014

Things are looking good after legalization in Colorado, a medical marijuana bill moves in Pennsylvania, food stamp drug testing is on hold in Mississippi, hash battles break out in Libya, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DPA Issues Report on Six Months of Legal Marijuana Sales in Colorado. Crime is down, tax revenues are up, and the marijuana industry is generating thousands of new jobs in Colorado, according to a new report from the Drug Policy Alliance. The report is Status Report: Marijuana Regulation in Colorado After Six Months of Retail Sales and 18 Months of Decriminalization.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Senate Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate Law and Justice Committee voted unanimously yesterday to approve Senate Bill 1182, which would allow qualified patients to obtain marijuana through dispensaries, but not grow their own. Neither could patients smoke their medicine, but they could use edibles or vaporize it. Now, the bill is on to the Appropriations Committee and, if it passes there, a Senate floor vote. Companion legislation in the House has yet to move.

Tulsa Medical Marijuana Petitioners Say Tulsa Cops Backed Off After They Went Public. Signature-gatherers for the Oklahomans for Health medical marijuana initiative report they are no longer being harassed by Tulsa Police after they went public with their complaints. Police had, on several occasions, stopped and investigated petitioners, at least twice after purportedly receiving complaints they were selling or smoking marijuana. The group hasn't had any formal response from Tulsa Police or city officials, but they are no longer being harassed, they said.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Food Stamp Drug Testing Implementation Delayed. A Mississippi law approved this year that would require food stamp applicants to be subject to drug testing is being delayed. It was supposed to go into effect July 1, but will be held up pending a public hearing set for July 22. The delay comes thanks to ACLU of Mississippi and the Mississippi Center for Justice, which challenged the start-up on grounds that it violated the state's administrative procedures law.

Methamphetamine

Michigan Governor Signs Package of Meth Bills. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) Thursday signed into law three bills increasing the criminalization of methamphetamine users and producers. One makes it a crime to purchase pseudoephedrine knowing it will be used to make meth, another makes it a crime to solicit someone else to do so, and the third specifies that the second mandates a 10-year prison sentence. Click on the link for more bill details.

International

Are the Latin American Drug Cartels on the Wane? Council on Hemispheric Affairs analyst Claudia Barrett has penned a provocative analysis suggesting the era of the cartels may be coming to an end. The piece is The Breakdown of Cartel Culture -- An Analysis.

Reductions in Coca Cultivation Don't Necessarily Mean Less Cocaine. The Global Post has a think piece on the reported decline in coca production and why it doesn't necessarily mean cocaine supplies are decreasing. Click on the link to read it.

Libya Hash Bust Sparks Deadly Battle. A hash bust in Benghazi last Saturday erupted into a pitched battle when armed gunmen attacked government forces who were destroying a major stash of hash seized from a cargo ship. At least seven people were reported killed. Government officials accused Al Qaeda of being involved.

Tunisia Will Reform Its Drug Laws. Tunisia is going to revamp its drug laws, a vestige of the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali dictatorship. The North African country has some 25,000 people in prison for drug offenses. Current laws don't differentiate between hard and soft drugs and require mandatory minimum prison sentences for any drug offense. A commission is expected to submit to parliament this summer an amended law that does away with the mandatory sentences of one-to-five years for drug possession.

New Zealand Poll Has Majority for Marijuana Reform. A majority of New Zealanders polled in a recent survey support reforming the country's marijuana laws. The New Zealand Herald-DigiPoll had 32% supported decriminalization and another 22% wanting it completely legalized, while 45% were opposed to any reform. Even among members of the ruling National Party, which opposes reform, 45% supported decrim or legalization.

Chronicle AM -- June 26, 2014

It's UN anti-drug day, and protests to mark it are going on in at least 80 cities around the world, House Republicans move to block DC decrim, the Oregon legalization initiative looks set to make the ballot, the ACLU has a strong new report out on SWAT teams, and more. Let's get to it:

fundraiser for the Florida medical marijuana initiative, at the Vicente-Sederberg law firm following the NCIA summit
Marijuana Policy

Cannabis Business Summit Draws Big Crowd in Denver. More than 1,200 people attended the Cannabis Business Summit sponsored by the National Cannabis Industry Association in Denver this week. Look for a Chronicle report on it in coming days.

Oregon Legalization Initiative to Hand in Signatures Today. It looks like Oregonians will vote on marijuana legalization this November. The New Approach Oregon initiative campaign will hand in 145,000 signatures to state officials today; they only need some 87,000 valid ones to qualify for the ballot.

House Committee Votes to Block Decriminalization in DC. The House Appropriations Committee yesterday passed an amendment to the 2015 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill intended to prevent the District of Columbia from implementing its recently passed law decriminalizing the possession of marijuana. It also has the potential to end the District's medical marijuana program. The amendment, offered by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), passed by a vote of 28-21. Reform advocates will seek a floor vote to remove this amendment from the bill when it proceeds to the House floor.

No Vote on Legalization in the Rhode Island Legislature. The 2014 legislative session has ended without the Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act never coming up for a vote. Maybe next year.

Oakland Shuts Down a Trio of Measure Z Speakeasies. For the past decade, recreational marijuana retail outlets have quietly operated in Oakland, protected by Measure Z, which makes the private use of marijuana by adults law enforcement's lowest priority. But in recent weeks, Oakland police have raided and shut down three of the speakeasies. The police say their enforcement actions are driven by complaints.

Sentencing

Two More Cosponsors for the Smarter Sentencing Act. The Smarter Sentencing Act has picked up two more cosponsors, bringing the total to 41, 27 Democrats and 14 Republicans. The latest cosponsors are Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH) and Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA).

Senate State and Foreign Operations Funding Bill to Include Sentencing Reform Language. Advocates working with Senate Judiciary Chair Pat Leahy's (D-VT) office report that the Senate committee report on the issue will include language making sentencing reform part of US foreign policy and an issue the State Department promotes when working on police training and judicial reform in other countries. Click the link to read the language.

Law Enforcement

ACLU Issues Report on Militarization of American Policing. The American Civil Liberties Union has released a new report on the excessive militarization of American policing, War Comes Home. The report concentrates on the use of SWAT teams, and fnds that 80% of SWAT deployments were not hostage rescue or other dangerous missions, but to serve search warrants, mainly for drugs. The report also examines the abuses associated with SWAT teams. This is strong stuff.

International

Global Demonstrations Against Drug War Today Mark UN Anti-Drug Day. Protestors in at least 80 cities around the world are taking the opportunity of UN anti-drug day to call not for more drug war, but for less. Click on the link for more details.

British Khat Ban Now in Effect. The British ban on the East African herbal stimulant plant khat has now gone into effect. There are fears the Somali community will be targeted and that a black market will now emerge.

British Doctors Reject Marijuana Legalization, Urge Cigarette Ban for Those Born After 2000. Meeting at their annual conference, members of the British Medical Association rejected a proposal to call for legalizing marijuana, but voted in favor of a ban on cigarettes for people born after 2000. The BMA's rejection of legalization was "both unscientific and unethical," said Steve Rolles of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation.

Uruguay's First Grower's Club Begins Registration Process. The Association of Cannabis Studies of Uruguay has registered to become the first officially recognized marijuana growing club in the country. The club headed by Laura Blanco will have 40 members. Joining a club and enjoying the fruits of collective grows is one of three ways to legally obtain marijuana under Uruguay's new law. The other options are registering to buy it from pharmacies or growing your own individually.

Mexico Wants More Black Hawk Choppers for Anti-Drug Activities. Mexico has formally requested to purchase five UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters for it war on drugs. The choppers are to be equipped with GPS/inertial navigation systems, forward-looking radar systems, and 10 7.62mm machine guns each. The proposed deal would be worth an estimated $225 million

House Committee Votes to Block DC Decrim

The GOP-dominated House Appropriations Committee stuck a thumb in the eye of democratic governance in the nations capital this morning. The committee voted to prevent the District of Columbia from implementing marijuana decriminalization approved by the District government. 

The move came in the form of an amendment to the District appropriations bill by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD). It passed on a vote of 28 to 21.

The amendment could also threaten the District's medical marijuana program.

Speaking of the District's medical marijuana program, this vote today brings back some bad memories. DC voters overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana in 1998, but, thanks to a measure similar to today's amendment, Congress blocked it for nearly a decade. It wasn't until 2009, with Democrats in control of the House, that the block was lifted. 

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) says it and other advocates will seek a floor vote to strip this amendment from the appropriations bill. It would seem to go against the spirit of a House that less than a month ago voted to prevent the Justice Department from enforcing federal marijuana laws against patients and providers in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.

Here's what MPP director of federal policies Dan Riffle had to say:

“The District of Columbia wisely decided to use stop wasting its own resources enforcing ineffective and racially biased laws and to allow those with serious illnesses whose doctors recommend it to use medical marijuana. Unfortunately, unlike every state in America that gets to determine its own laws, Washington, D.C. laws are reviewed by Congress where Washington, DC residents have no voting representatives," he said.

“Marijuana is significantly less harmful than alcohol, and polls clearly show most Americans want to see it treated that way. We’ll do everything we can to restore democracy in D.C. and ensure this regressive amendment is rejected when it is considered by the full House. Mr. Harris’s antiquated, unscientific views on marijuana should be his constituents’ problem, not the District of Columbia’s,” he vowed.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Worldwide Protests Set for UN Anti-Drugs Day This Thursday [FEATURE]

This Thursday, June 26, is the United Nations' International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, which has been used by many governments to justify harsh crackdowns and promote harsh punishments, including exemplary executions. This year, activists around the world will hold their own demonstrations calling not for war more drug war, but for less.

While most UN anti-drug events are fairly anodyne -- last year's highlights include a "sharing best practices" seminar in Vienna and the release of the annual World Drugs Report -- other activities associated with the day are downright gruesome. In 2008, Indonesia marked the day by resuming drug executions; in 2009, China celebrated it by executing 20 people, and last year, China got a jump on events by executing six people in the run-up to anti-drug day.

Civil society is saying "enough." In more than 80 cities across the globe, activists gathering under the banner "Support, Don't Punish: Global Day of Action" will be taking to the streets to protest against policies that have led to mass incarceration, the exacerbation of health crises, and the prospering of violent criminal drug trafficking organizations. Instead, "Support, Don't Punish" will call for a more effective and humane approach to the drug issue, one based on public health, harm reduction, and human rights.

While the global drug war is estimated to cost $100 billion a year -- with unclear impact for reducing harms related to substance abuse -- "Support, Don't Punish" calls for investments in proven, cost-effective harm reduction responses for people who use drugs, and for the decriminalization of people who use drugs and the removal of other laws that impede public health services.

The campaign is truly global, with the endorsement of more than 150 organizations, including not only well-known groups such as the Drug Policy Alliance and the International Drug Policy Consortium, but also local, regional, and national groups from every continent except Antarctica.

Mass demonstrations and other actions are planned in London, New York, Paris, Warsaw, Mexico City, Kathmandu, Rome, Phnom Penh, Tbilisi, Kuala Lumpur, Moscow and more than 70 other cities. The actions include peaceful demonstrations, street performances, public meetings and workshops, social media campaigns and advertisements on public transportation and billboards.

A trio of activists in different cities around the globe contacted by the Chronicle provide a hint of what to expect.

"In London, we will be holding a demonstration outside Parliament to highlight the failure of the war on drugs and calling on the UK government to end the criminalization of people who use drugs under the 'Support Don't Punish' banner," said Niamh Eastwood, executive director of the British drug NGO Release, which is organizing the London event. "Additionally, we will be writing to the Prime Minister asking for reform of national policy and asking that the British government commit to meaningful engagement in the international discussions leading to the UN drugs summit in New York in 2016 allowing for discussion of alternatives to prohibition."

"In Mexico City, we have created a microsite that summarizes the ten reasons why every Mexican should be involved and interested in drug policy reform," said Adam Barra, program officer for the youth-oriented organization Espolea. "The site includes video capsules of public figures, as well as info graphics that present the most relevant information to form one's own opinion on drug policy. Lastly, the site includes the support of over 20 national organizations from various sectors of society and diverse thematic focuses," Barra added.

"The site will be launched on June 26, as Bee Open Space in Mexico City, and will be followed by a panel with renowned experts on the subject who will make a balance of the punitive versus the health approaches currently used in Mexico," he continued. "After the panel, guests will be invited to watch a screening of the documentary The House I Live In. We expect 50 people be present at the launching, but we expect half a million unique visits to the site over the next month."

"In Katmandu, we will convene a national symposium, as well as demonstrations and marches here and in five other Nepalese cities, said Anan Pun, founder of the Nepalese Coalition for Health, Human Rights, and Harm Reduction (Coalition H3). "We will be doing awareness-raising and media outreach, as well as building the leadership and advocacy skills of various actors, including media, civil society and community groups, and their networks."

While "Support, Don't Punish" protestors around the planet will be united in calling for reform of the UN drug control system -- the legal backbone of global drug prohibition -- each country has its own particular issues, and the campaign will be addressing those as well.

"We will be highlighting the damage caused by our drug laws at a national level," said Release's Eastwood. "In particular, the fact that drug policing disproportionately targets the Black and Asian communities, with black people being six times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs than white people, and Asian people twice as likely to be searched. This is despite the fact that both groups use drugs at a lower rate than the white population. This is driving the racial disparity that exists in the criminal justice System in England and Wales," he explained.

"Our drug laws allow for the mass searching of certain communities. In London, for example, drugs searches make up 60% of all stop and searches. Despite being given ample opportunity to reform their practices the police have not been able to address racial disproportionately and we believe real change can only be achieved by reforming the laws and in the first instance ending criminal sanctions for possession of drugs," Eastwood explained.

"Mexico is one of the countries that has taken the war to its last consequences," said Espolea's Barra. "Official figures report over 60,000 deaths and 20,000 disappeared people in the period 2006-2012. In Mexico, only 1.8% of the population reported using drugs in the last year, yet we are seeing an average of 15,000 killings a year because of our drug policies. Former President Felipe Calderon addressed the UN and joined other countries in the region in calling for al revision of the global drug war consensus, and now we await the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs. It is crucial that Mexico improves its drug policy before then."

"In Nepal, we are urging all stakeholders, including the government, policymakers, and parliamentarians to make policy based on science and evidence -- fostering human rights, health and well-being of mankind rather than on total elimination of drugs from the world," said the Coalition 3H's Pun. "This is an important opportunity to build the country capacity for advocacy and mobilize the country for public health and rights-based drug policies. We need to hold our government and every other actors accountable and stand up for humane and evidence based drug policy in Nepal and elsewhere in the globe," he said.

This coming UN anti-drug day is about to get a response like never before. With the global demonstrations, the drug reform movement demonstrates both its worldwide reach and its imperative to change the world not just at the highest international levels, but at home as well. Different countries have different issues, but all of them are burdened by an international drug prohibition regime from the last century. There appears to be a growing consensus that it is time for something new.

Chronicle AM -- June 19, 2014

We can watch the marijuana policy landscape shift before our eyes, with legalization initiatives and decrim measures popping up around the country and even Oklahoma Republicans arguing over legalization. There is also action on the opiate front, the Senate will vote on defunding the DEA's war on medical marijuana in states where it is legal, and more. Let's get to it:

US Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) cosponsors an amendment to cut DEA medical marijuana funding. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

House Fails to Add Rider to Block DC Decriminalization Law. The House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee approved a familiar series of social policy riders on the District of Columbia budget, but did not include one that would seek to undo the city's recent adoption of marijuana decriminalization. It's not a done deal yet, however; such a rider could still be added during the legislative process. The subcommittee did approve riders barring the District from funding needle exchanges or medical marijuana programs.

Delaware Decriminalization Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. A bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and levy a maximum $250 fine passed the House Public Safety Committee today. House Bill 371 now heads for a House floor vote.

Marijuana Policy in the Oklahoma GOP Governor's Race. In next week's GOP primary, sitting Gov. Mary Fallin is up against two longshot opponents who both favor marijuana legalization. Both Chad Moody, also known as "The Drug Lawyer," and Dax Ewbank, a libertarian-leaning Republican, have come out in favor of freeing the weed. But Fallin says that's not on her to-do list: "I just don't see that it provides a substantial benefit to the people of Oklahoma," Fallin said.

Milwaukee Legalization Initiative Signature-Gathering Drive Underway. A coalition of Milwaukee groups have begun a petition drive to place a municipal legalization ordinance on the November ballot. The measure would legalize the possession of up to an ounce. The groups have until July 29 to come up with 30,000 valid voter signatures. People interested in helping out can get more information here.

Philadelphia City Council Votes to Decriminalize Marijuana. The city council today approved a decriminalization measure introduce last month by Councilman Jim Kenney. Up to 30 grams is decriminalized, with a maximum $25 fine. Four years ago this month, the city began treatment small-time possession as a summary offense, with a maximum $200 fine and three-hour class on drug abuse.

Activists Gather Twice the Signatures Needed for York, Maine, Legalization Initiative. Activists supported by the Marijuana Policy Project needed 100 valid voter signatures to present a marijuana legalization petition to the York Board of Selectmen. They handed in 200. Similar petition drives are going on in Lewiston and South Portland, and Portland voters approved a legalization referendum last year. The local efforts are laying the groundwork for a statewide legalization initiative in 2016.

Medical Marijuana

Sens. Rand Paul, Cory Booker Cosponsor DEA Defunding Amendment in Senate; Vote Could Come as Soon as Tonight. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have cosponsored an amendment to the Justice Department funding bill that would shield medical marijuana patients and providers from the attention of the DEA in states where it is legal. The vote could come as soon as tonight or tomorrow. The House passed such an amendment at the end of last month.

New York Governor, Legislature in Tentative Deal as Session Draws to End. With the legislative ticking down its final hours, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and legislative leaders today announced a deal that would allow passage of a medical marijuana pilot program, but would not allow patients to smoke their medicine.

North Carolina Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Wins House Committee Votes. A bill that would allow some patients to use a high-CBD cannabis oil was approved by the House Health Committee Wednesday and the House Finance Committee today.

Drug Policy

Drug Policy in the Colorado GOP Senatorial Race. Former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, who is running for the state's GOP senatorial nomination, is being attacked as a drug legalizer in a radio ad created by a committee supporting former Sen. Mike Copp. While Tancredo supports marijuana legalization and has in the past spoken of the need to consider drug legalization, he says he is not ready to legalize hard drugs and is demanding that the ads be pulled.

Opiates

Vermont Governor Signs Package of Bills Aimed at Opiate Use. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) Tuesday signed into law a package of bills and executive orders that will ramp up treatment for opiate addiction, but also increase penalties for bringing more than one gram of heroin into the state. The centerpiece of the legislative package is Senate Bill 295, which will fund pretrial screening and drug treatment for suspects before they are arraigned.

New York Assembly Set to Approve Package of Heroin Bills. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and key lawmakers announced Tuesday night that they had a deal on a package of heroin bills that would raise awareness of the issue and increase insurance coverage of heroin treatment. What isn't clear is whether they agreement also includes a series of Rockefeller drug law-style measure passed by the Republican-dominated Senate that would increase criminal penalties for some heroin offenses.

Harm Reduction

DC Police Chief Orders No Arrests for Overdose Victims. In a recent memorandum, Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier has instructed her police force to observe protections from arrest and charge granted under a DC law designed to encourage residents to seek immediate medical assistance for a person experiencing an overdose. The Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Amendment Act of 2012 (#A19-564), which was passed by the D.C. Council in 2012 and took effect on March 19, 2013, provides limited legal protection from arrest, charge and prosecution for those who witness or experience a drug overdose and summon medical assistance.

Sentencing

Federal Fair Sentencing Act Picks Up Another Sponsor. And then there were 39. Rep. William Envart (D-IL) has signed on as a cosponsor to the Federal Fair Sentencing Act. That makes 25 Democrats, along with 14 Republicans. It would reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentences and impose retroactivity for crack cocaine sentences handed down before 2010.

International

Britain's Looming Khat Ban Could Create Black Market. A ban on khat is about to go into effect in England, and this report suggests that it could create political tensions in East Africa, as well as creating a black market for the substance in England itself.

Albanian Siege of Marijuana-Producing Village Continues. A police assault on the village of Lazarat that began Monday is still underway as clashes continued between police and armed villagers. Some 800 police are involved in the operation, and they say they have seized or destroyed more than 10 tons of marijuana so far. But that's only a fraction of the 900 tons the village is estimated to produce annually. The town's $6 billion pot crop is equivalent to about half Albania's GDP.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM -- June 18, 2014

A pair of potential presidential contenders speak out on marijuana, five New England governors meet on the opiate issue, New York cops are starting to be trained to use the overdose reversal drug naloxone, New York's governor makes passage of medical marijuana there iffy, the Dutch high court rules cities can ban foreigners from cannabis coffee shops, and more. Let's get to it:

Hillary Clinton talks pot. (Wikimedia/Chatham House Flickr Stream)
Marijuana Policy

Hillary Clinton Evolves on Marijuana Policy. In an interview with CNN international correspondent Christiane Amanpour Tuesday, former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she favors medical marijuana for people who are in "extreme medical conditions" and is willing to "wait and see" how recreational pot works in Colorado and Washington state. "On recreational, states are the laboratories of democracy," Clinton said. "We have at least two states that are experimenting with that right now. I want to wait and see what the evidence is." That's a step forward for Clinton, who in 2008 opposed marijuana decriminalization and who in 2012 said she doubted drug legalization would end black market violence in Central America.

Chris Christie Doesn't. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said Monday night that medical marijuana is "a front for legalization" and suggested that -- unlike every other industry in the United States -- medical marijuana providers should not be concerned with making money. His remarks came in response to criticism of his management of the state's highly-regulated medical marijuana program. Christie has said repeatedly that he opposes legalization, and that it won't happen "on my watch."

No Legalization Initiative for Arizona This Year. A Safer Arizona campaign to get its legalization initiative on the November ballot is over after the campaign came up well short in its signature-gathering efforts. The group needed 250,000 signatures to qualify, but said it only had about a third of that number. They are vowing to be back in 2016.

Delaware Decriminalization Bill to Get Hearing Tomorrow. The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on a decriminalization bill tomorrow. House Bill 371, sponsored by Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington), would make possession of less than an ounce a civil infraction punishable by a fine. Under current law, possession of any amount is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.

Medical Marijuana

New York Governor Rejects Medical Marijuana Bill, Demands No Smoking. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has rejected the Compassionate Use Act just two days before the state's legislative session ends. Legislators are working to revise the bill in a manner acceptable to Cuomo, and he has signaled he was willing to waive legislative rules to allow a late bill to be introduced.

Opiates

New England Governors Meet to Address Opiates. The five governors of the New England states (except for Maine, whose Republican governor, Paul LePage didn't attend) met yesterday to address rising drug overdoses and agreed to cooperate on the cross-state monitoring of prescription drug monitoring and to expand drug treatment. They said they would try to make prescription monitoring mandatory and would try to curb "doctor shopping." The governors had nothing to say about ensuring that patients with legitimate needs for pain medications are able to get access to them.

Harm Reduction

New York Cops Get Training in Using Overdose Reversal Drug. By the end of this week, more than 600 New York state police officers and sheriff's deputies will have received the necessary training to carry and administer naloxone (Narcan), the opiate overdose reversal drug. The state has pledged to make the life-saving drug available to police officers across the state, and the program is just being rolled out now.

International

Myanmar's 15-Year Opium Eradication Effort a Failure, Government Minister Says. A Myanmar Home Affairs minister told parliament Monday that the country's 15-year effort to wipe out opium poppies had failed, and that the government would extend it for another five years. Brigadier General Kyaw Kyaw Tun said poppy crops had declined until 2006, but had been on the rise since then. It has been increasing at a rate of more than 10% a year in the past several years, he said. Myanmar is the world's second largest opium producer, although it trails far behind world leader Afghanistan in output.

Canada Prescription Opiate Overdoses on the Increase, New Report Says. Overdose deaths from prescription opiates have "risen sharply" and now account for about half of all drug-related deaths in the country, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition said in a report released Monday. The report, Getting to Tomorrow: A Report on Canadian Drug Policy, calls for harm reduction measures and a public health approach to reduce overdose deaths.

Dutch High Court Decides Local Councils Can Ban Foreigners From Cannabis Coffee Shops. The Dutch Council of State, the country's highest court, has ruled that municipalities have the ability to bar people who are non-residents from the country's famous cannabis cafes. The aims of preventing drug tourism and combating organized crime are sufficient to allow discrimination based on nationality, the court ruled. The ruling comes in the case of coffee shop owners in the border towns of Maastrict and Limburg, where councilors had closed coffee shops for selling to tourists. Most other municipalities have not moved to ban foreigners. Read the advisory opinion here.

Chronicle AM -- June 13, 2014

Jamaica will decriminalize pot possession and Bermuda is thinking about it, legalization initiatives in Alaska and Oregon get big bucks donations, medical marijuana reform is moving in the DC city council, and more. Let's get to it:

MPP Gives Alaska Initiative Campaign Big Cash Contribution. The Marijuana Policy Project, which is backing the Alaska legalization initiative, has just kicked in another $140,000. That's the second largest contribution to the campaign yet (the biggest, also from MPP, was $210,000), and pushes its total contributions to over half a million dollars. The organized opposition -- Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, Vote No on 2 -- has, on the other hand, raised only $31,000, most of it in a single donation by an Alaska Native village corporation.

Peter Lewis Family Gives Oregon Initiative Campaign Big Cash Contribution. A PAC controlled by heirs of Progressive Insurance founder and drug reform funder Peter Lewis has donated $250,000 to the New Approach Oregon legalization initiative. Lewis had donated $96,000 before his death last fall, and there were fears his death could end his reform largesse, but his family is carrying on. The group has raised more than $900,000 overall.

SurveyUSA Oregon Poll Has 51% for Legalization. A new SurveyUSA poll in Oregon has 51% supporting marijuana legalization, with 41% opposed, and 8% undecided. The poll comes as three legalization initiatives are in the final weeks of signature-gathering to put the issue on the November ballot. Initiative organizers are not going to breathe easy with numbers like these, though; the conventional wisdom is that initiatives want to be polling at 60% or above before the campaign begins in earnest. Click on the link for demographic and methodological details.

Medical Marijuana

DC Council Moves Toward Approving Expanded Medical Marijuana Access. The District of Columbia city council moved ahead yesterday with plans to expand access to medical marijuana. In a joint session of the Health and Judiciary and Public Safety committees, the council gave preliminary approval to two bills. Bill 20-766, cosponsored by every member of the council, would repeal the qualifying conditions list and allow physicians to recommend marijuana to any patient they think marijuana would benefit. Bill 20-678, will increase the number of plants a cultivation center could possess from 95 to 500, better ensuring that patient need is met.

Feds Warn Casinos to Not Take Bets Made With Marijuana Money. Federal regulators addressing a banking secrecy conference in Las Vegas yesterday warned casinos they can't accept bets from people working in the marijuana industry unless the casinos undertake rigorous background checks and allow the federal government to monitor the bets. That's because casinos are subject to the same financial reporting requirements as financial institutions. It's a lengthy report; click on the link to read it all.

Sentencing

Fair Sentencing Act Gets Another Cosponsor. Add Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) to the list of cosponsors of the federal Fair Sentencing Act of 2013. He signed on yesterday. That makes 24 Democrats and 14 Republicans. The bill is before the House Judiciary Committee. Clicking on the link will take you to the bill.

Law Enforcement

Virginia Sheriff's Office Makes Mass Drug Bust… Again… and Again. The Amherst County Sheriff's Office announced yesterday that a county grand jury had indicted 68 people on drug charges after a months-long investigation by the department. It's the third mass bust since 2010's Operation Silent Night and 2012's Operation Avalanche. The sheriff's office seems to understand--at least on some level--the futility of such operations: "It stops these folks from selling drugs [but] as soon as you remove these folks, someone else takes their place. It's a never-ending cycle we're working on," a spokesman said.

International

Jamaica Will Decriminalize Marijuana Possession. Jamaica will decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, the government announced yesterday. It will also allow possession for some medical and scientific purposes. And it will allow possession for religious purposes. Justice Minister Mark Golding said that the cabinet is supporting a proposal to decriminalize the possession of to two ounces of the ganja. Under the proposal, those caught with marijuana could be subjected to fines, but not criminal charges.

Bermuda's Attorney General Says Government Should Consider Marijuana Decriminalization. As the Bermudan government mulls marijuana reform, new Attorney General Trevor Moniz has come out for decriminalization. Moniz would prefer "a system where if you get caught with a small amount of marijuana, you don't go to court and you wouldn't have any criminal record," he said. "In New York and the UK., they have a caution only for a first offence, which may need to be broadened. I'm in favor of small steps, incremental steps, rather than a big leap," he added.

Barcelona Bans New Cannabis Clubs for a Year. Citing a proliferation of private cannabis clubs and a lack of regulation, the Barcelona city council announced today it was instituting a moratorium on new clubs for one year. The crackdown comes just days after a club was closed for illegal sales. The clubs allow members to grow and consume their own cannabis, but they aren't supposed to sell the stuff to outsiders. The clubs have been attracting cannabis tourists from around the world.

Conflict in Turkish Municipality Tied to Marijuana Crop. Three weeks of violent protests in the municipality of Lice in Diyarbakir Province, where Kurds predominate, are linked to the looming marijuana harvest, some of the profits from which are destined for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), according to this report. Violent incidents have been ongoing since demonstrators attacked a security forces outpost with homemade bombs and Molotov cocktails, and soldiers opened fire, killing the nephew of a "notorious trafficker."

Jamaica Will Decriminalize Marijuana Possession

Jamaica will decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, the government announced today. It will also allow possession for some medical and scientific purposes. And it will allow possession for religious purposes.

Rasta has reason to smile. (wikimedia.org)
Justice Minister Mark Golding said today that the cabinet is supporting a proposal to decriminalize the possession of to two ounces of the ganja. Under the proposal, those caught with marijuana could be subjected to fines, but not criminal charges.

Golding said the government will also draft legislation that would allow people convicted of marijuana use or possession under the current law to get their criminal records expunged.

Marijuana has long been a part of Jamaican culture and is used as a religious sacrament by Rastafarians. More than a decade ago, a parliament-appointed commission recommended that the government decriminalize it, but, despite mounting pressure, that hadn't happened. Now, it looks as if it actually will.

Jamaica

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