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Romania Legalizes Medical Marijuana

The East European nation of Romania has approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes, according to neighboring Bulgaria's Sofia News Agency, citing Romanian sources. It becomes the 10th European Union country to do so.

Legislators in Bucharest amended the country's drug laws to provide that marijuana-derived medicines can be used to relieve pain and reduce seizures in diseases including epilepsy, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.

The possession and use of marijuana for non-medical purposes remains illegal.

Researchers in Romania are currently studying the efficacy of marijuana for patients with Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease, and Tourette's Syndrome.

It's not clear whether marijuana's efficacy for treating a particular disease or disorder must be proven before it can be used to treat that disease or disorder.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Bucharest
Romania

Switzerland Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession

As of this week, the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana is no longer a criminal offense in Switzerland. Instead, the Swiss have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of weed, replacing possible jail time and a criminal record with a maximum fine of $110. The new law went into effect Tuesday.

The change in the Swiss drug law brings the country in line with other European countries that have either formally or effectively decriminalized pot possession. It also brings uniformity within Switzerland, where previously, some cantons had turned a blind eye to marijuana offenses while others came down hard on offenders.

The change will also relieve pressure on Swiss police and courts. The country has dealt with 30,000 or so marijuana charges each year, a number that should decline dramatically under the new law.

Cultivation and distribution of marijuana remain criminal offenses, as does possession of more than 10 grams. The new law also increases penalties for sale to minors.

The country of some eight million people is thought to have up to 500,000 marijuana users.

Switzerland

Peru Retakes Spot as World's #1 Coca Producer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peru

Latin American Leaders Talk Drug Reform at UN

Once again, the United Nations' General Assembly meeting in New York City has become a forum for calls for drug reform. Leaders from Latin America took the opportunity this week to criticize drug prohibition and challenge the world body to come up with better alternatives.

Colombian President Santos was among Latin American leaders challenging drug prohibition at the UN. (wikipedia.org)
"Right here, in this same headquarters, 52 years ago, the convention that gave birth to the war on drugs was approved. Today, we must acknowledge, that war has not been won," Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told assembled world leaders Tuesday, referring to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. "And I say this as the president of the country that has suffered more deaths, more bloodshed and more sacrifices in this war, and the country that has also achieved more results in the fight against this scourge and the mafias that underpin it."

The Colombian president's remarks echoed those he made last year at the Summit of the Americas, which commissioned the Organization of American States to study new approaches to dealing with illicit drugs. That study was issued in May, and Santos said the UN should give it serious consideration before a General Assembly Special Session on Drugs set for 2016. That session was proposed by Mexico and accepted by the General Assembly.

Also on Tuesday, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said that her nation "joins the call from other States from our region, such as Mexico and Guatemala, 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."

That language is from a consensus statement elaborated and agreed on by Santos, Chinchilla, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, and Mexican President Enrique Peña.

On Thursday, it was Perez Molina's turn. A former general elected to office on a promise of taking a hard-line against organized crime, Perez Molina last year became the first sitting head of state to call for legalizing the illicit drug market. This year, he was still singing the same tune.

"Since the start of my government, we have clearly affirmed that the war on drugs has not yielded the desired results," Perez Molina told the General Assembly. "We cannot keep on doing the same thing and expecting different results."

Instead, global leaders must seek new approaches to drug use centered on public health and prevention and designed to reduce violence and respect human rights, he said. Perez Molina also praised voters in Colorado and Washington for their "visionary decision" to legalize marijuana and praised President Obama for "respecting the voice of the citizens of Colorado and Washington, to allow these innovative experiences to provide results."

Perez Molina lauded Uruguayan President Jose Mujica for proposing marijuana legalization legislation there "instead of following the failed route of prohibition." That bill has passed the Uruguayan House and is expected to pass the Senate easily next month. Perez Molina and Mujica also met Thursday in a private meeting.

Mexico's Peña Nieto canceled his appearance at the UN to deal with the aftermath of the killer hurricanes that swept his country last week, but his foreign minister, Jose Antonio Meade Kuribena, echoed the language of the other Latin American leaders, adding that the consensus statement was also supported by Chile, Paraguay, and others.

The calls for reform from the Latin Americans, whose countries have suffered some of the gravest consequences of the war on drugs, are growing ever louder, and it now appears that the 2016 Special Session could see real fireworks over the issue. If the Special Session happens, that is -- while the General Assembly has approved it, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime is opposed, and the International Narcotics Control Board is resolutely oblivious.

New York City, NY
United States

Health Canada Approves Heroin Maintenance [FEATURE]

Last Friday, Health Canada used some creative rule-reading to approve a program that would provide prescription heroin to a small number of hard-core users, and the Conservative health minister isn't happy. But doctors, advocates, and the users themselves are quite pleased -- and once again, Canada stays on the cutting edge when it comes to dealing smartly with heroin use.

Health Canada approved access to prescription heroin for at least 15 people who are completing their participation in Vancouver's Study to Assess Long-term Opioid Dependence (SALOME), which is testing whether prescribing heroin was more effective than prescribing methadone for users who have proven resistant to conventional treatments. The move came after participants and advocates have been calling for an "exit strategy" for the 322 people in the study.

SALOME began at the end of 2011 and has been enrolling participants on a rolling basis for a year at a time. The final group of participants will finish up at the end of next year. It built on the success of the North American Opioid Maintenance Initiative (NAOMI), a study in Vancouver and Montreal from 2005 to 2008. That study found that using heroin is cheaper and more effective than using methadone to treat recalcitrant heroin users.

While the Conservative federal government has been a staunch opponent of heroin maintenance, not to mention also fighting a bitter losing battle to close down the Vancouver safe injection site, Health Canada bureaucrats were able to find a loophole that will allow doctors to prescribe heroin to graduating study participants under the ministry's Special Access Program (SAP).

That program is designed to provide drugs to Canadians with life-threatening illnesses on a "compassionate or emergency" basis. The SAP includes "pharmaceutical, biologic and radiopharmaceutical products that are not approved for sale in Canada." The program covers diseases including intractable depression, epilepsy, transplant rejection and hemophilia, but heroin addiction isn't mentioned.

"Health Canada made a wonderful decision," said Scott Bernstein, Health and Drug Policy Lawyer for the Vancouver-based Pivot Legal Aid Society, which represents 22 SALOME participants and the BC Association of People on Methadone in order to advocate for their continued access to health care and the protection of their human rights. "The decision was one based on the evidence and not ideology. It means that those SALOME participants allowed access can live safer, more stable lives, lives free of crime and remaining under the care of doctors, not drug dealers."

But Health Minister Rona Ambrose appeared to have been caught flat-footed by the Health Canada decision. She issued a statement the same day decrying the move, saying that it contradicted the government's anti-drug stance.

Pharmaceutical diacetylmorphine AKA heroin (wikimedia.org)
"Our government takes seriously the harm caused by dangerous and addictive drugs," Ambrose said. "Earlier today, officials at Health Canada made the decision to approve an application under the Special Access Program's current regulations to give heroin to heroin users -- not to treat an underlying medical condition, but simply to allow them to continue to have access to heroin for their addiction even though other safe treatments for heroin addiction, such as methadone, are available."

The move is "in direct opposition to the government's anti-drug policy and violates the spirit and intent of the Special Access Program," Ambrose said, adding that she would take action to "protect the integrity of the (SAP) and ensure this does not happen again."

Ambrose's remarks prompted a Monday response from SNAP (the SALOME/NAOMI Patients Association), comprised of "the only patients in North America to be part of two heroin-assisted treatment (HAT) clinical trials" -- NAOMI and SALOME. SNAP noted that European heroin-assisted treatment trials had allowed participants to continue to be prescribed heroin on compassionate grounds after the trials ended and that "heroin-assisted therapy is an effective and safe treatment that improves physical and psychological health when the participants are receiving treatment."

"The Canadian NAOMI trial is the only heroin-assisted treatment study that failed to continue offering HAT to its participants when the trial ended in Vancouver," SNAP said. "We do not want to see the same outcome for the SALOME trial. Currently, SALOME patients are being offered oral hydromorphone when they exit the trial. However, there is currently no scientific evidence to support this treatment option for opiate addiction in the doses required; thus we urge you to reconsider your comments and to support Health Canada's decision to grant special access to heroin for patients exiting the SALOME trial. We also urge Canadians to support the immediate establishment of a permanent HAT program in Vancouver, BC."

Patients and their supporters weren't the only ones supporting the Health Canada move and criticizing Minister Ambrose for her opposition. New Democratic Party health critic Libby Davies also had some choice words for her.

Davies was "outraged" that Ambrose would "overrule her own experts," she said. "Medicalized heroin maintenance has been used very successfully in places like Europe. It's another example of the Conservative government ignoring sound public policy, instead making decisions based on political dogma."

Indeed, while Canada has been on the cutting edge of opiate maintenance in North America, being the scene of the hemisphere's only safe injection site and heroin-maintenance studies, similar moves have been afoot in Europe for some time. Prescription heroin programs have been established in several European countries, such as Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

Now, it seems that Canada will join them, despite the health minister's dismay.

Vancouver
Canada

Pressure Mounts for Marijuana Reform in Bermuda

For Americans, mention "Bermuda" and "marijuana" and the first thing that comes to mind is a vision of vacationing cruise ship passengers arrested and fined in large amounts for carrying small quantities of the substance, like this Oakland medical marijuana patient last month or these two unfortunate tourists in April. But that could be about to change.

A mid-month meeting organized by the governing One Bermuda Alliance's youth wing, the Future Bermuda Alliance, to discuss marijuana reform drew nearly a hundred residents and supporters, including two government ministers, both of whom expressed general support for the notion.

"We're delighted with the initiative taken by the FBA and we're pleased that on a Sunday night, when there's a lot going on and people are getting ready to go to work, that there's a good turnout," said Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley, according to the Royal Gazette. "This is a very difficult subject to discuss because people seem to be either in one camp or the other. It's great that the FBA has put it on so that people can put their opinion out there."

The administration is paying attention, Dunkley told the crowd.

"This government made it very clear that we will look at this subject and so this type of discussion with a cross section of Bermuda's society helps us determine the position going forward. We're not afraid to tackle the difficult issues, we've shown that. And so I'm delighted to have the opportunity to come out and listen," he said.

"The people of Bermuda need to know that their government is prepared to hear them," said Education Minister Nalton Brangman, the Gazette reported. "As legislators it's important that we get the pulse, feel the pulse and appreciate how the people are feeling on every subject; this is a very good thing."

Among the panelists was yet another government figure, Junior Public Safety Minister Jeff Baron, the Rev. Dr. Ernest Peets, Chewstick Movement leader Najib Chentouf, and former Pennsylvania marijuana activist and now Bermuda's go-to man on marijuana policy, attorney Alan Gordon.

In addition to comments from the panelists, the event also provided a forum for public feedback on the marijuana laws, and the sense of the attendees was clear from comments that the Gazette reproted.

"Alcohol hasn't done us much justice, we need to give marijuana a chance, maintain it, regulate -- I fully support it," said Jason Stovall, 24.

The government should use "common sense and logic" on pot policy, said another man, who asked to remain anonymous. "It's a disgrace and it's a human rights atrocity for this drug war to be locking people in prison for a plant that is less harmful than the legal drugs available. What they should do is go over to KFC and stop people from eating greasy food or sitting in bars, which is ironic right now in itself," he said. "And it would be a sin to tax it once we free up the ganja to have the government benefit from it."

The meeting is a sign that Bermuda's marijuana policies could be changing soon, Gordon told the Chronicle after the event.

"The government is looking very seriously at making a change in cannabis policy and soon," he said, pointing not only to the presence of government ministers at the meeting, but also members of parliament and One Bermuda Alliance officials. "The government helped facilitate that panel to hear out citizens on their concerns on cannabis policy and where they want to see it go."

As for those cruise ship passengers, Gordon said the bad publicity generated by their Bermuda pot busts is forcing change there, as well. "People caught with non-trafficking amounts would only get a caution if compliant," he said. But he warned that judges will still be tough on people bringing large amounts, saying they "see importers as people whose activities bring crime and violence."

Things are bubbling in Bermuda. Stay tuned.

Bermuda

Bolivia, Venezuela Reject US Drug Criticism

Last Friday, the White House released its annual score card on other countries' compliance with US drug policy demands, the presidential determination on major drug producing and trafficking countries. It identified 22 countries as "major drug transit and/or major illicit drug producing countries," but listed only three -- Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela -- as having "failed demonstrably" to comply with US drug war objectives.

Cocaine has Washington's nose out of joint when it comes to Bolivia and Venezuela. (wikipedia.org)
Among those countries that are not listed as having "failed demonstrably" are the world's largest opium producer (Afghanistan), the world's two largest coca and cocaine producers (Colombia and Peru), the leading springboard for drugs coming into the US (Mexico), and the weak Central American states that serve as lesser springboards for drug loads destined for the US. They are all US allies; Bolivia and Venezuela are not.

Both the Bolivians and the Venezuelans responded angrily to the determination.

"We strongly reject the accusation... The United States is trying to ignore our government's sovereign policies," Alejandro Keleris, the head of Venezuela's national anti-drug office, said late on Saturday in response to the US report.

Keleris said Venezuela had arrested more than 6,400 people for drug trafficking so far this year and seized almost 80,000 pounds of various drugs. Venezuela had arrested over a hundred drug gang bosses since 2006 and extradited at least 75 of them, including some to the US, he said.

Drug enforcement ties between Washington and Caracas have been strained since at least 2005, when then President Hugo Chavez threw the DEA out of the country, accusing it of intervening in internal Venezuelan affairs. Venezuela is not a drug producing nation, but has been a transit country for cocaine produced in Colombia.

Bolivia's denunciation of the presidential determination was even stronger.

"The Bolivian government does not recognize the authority of the US government to certify or decertify the war on drugs," Vice Minister of Social Defense and Controlled Substances Felipe Caceres said Saturday. "The only internationally accredited body is the UN, whose report was recently met."

The UN report that Caceres referenced was last month's Bolivian Coca Monitoring Survey, which found that the government of President Evo Morales had successfully reduced the number of acres under coca cultivation for the second year in a row.

"President Obama makes that statement even though only two months ago the Office of National Drug Control Policy of the White House verified that the total cocaine production in Bolivia has fallen by 18% since 2011," the Bolivian government said last Friday. "The United States seeks to undermine that the government of President Evo Morales has achieved these things with dignity, sovereignty and social control without any type of interference from abroad."

Like Venezuela, Bolivia has thrown out the DEA, which has been absent from the country for five years now. In May, Bolivia announced it had expelled a USAID official, and in June, the US embassy announced it was ending anti-drug efforts with the Bolivians.

Mexico's New Drug War Looks Like the Old Drug War

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto came into office in December vowing to break with his predecessor's reliance on the Mexican military to fight the so-called drug cartels. He said he wanted to concentrate on lowering crime and increasing public security instead of making high-profile busts or killings of cartel leaders, and he said he would create a militarized national police force to replace the military in drug fighting.

But Pena Nieto announced last week that the new militarized national police force has been shrunk from 40,000 to 5,000, with his government citing concerns from civil society that the initiative should go through the legislature. And his administration clarified that only 1,400 members had so far been recruited, and the "national gendarmarie" would not take the field until July 2014.

Meanwhile, even though the government has been touting a 20% reduction in the number of drug war killings, the blood-letting continues at the rate of about a thousand dead a month, and the military continues to be deeply involved. The number of dead in Mexico's drug war since Felipe Calderon called in the military six years ago is now somewhere north of 80,000, with additional tens of thousands "disappeared."

And while the government has said it was shifting its focus from going after cartel leaders to reducing crime, it has scored three major victories against cartel capos in the last six weeks. Authorities detained Zetas cartel kingpin Miguel Angel Trevino, alias "Z-40," on July 15, followed by Gulf cartel leader Mario Ramirez Trevino on August 17, and over the weekend, they managed to roll up "Ugly Betty," otherwise known as Alberto Carillo Fuentes, the head of the battered Juarez Cartel.

The Juarez Cartel had fought, and apparently lost, a nasty turf war with the Sinaloa Cartel, but remains a player in the country's drug trade. While the capture of leaders of the Zetas, the Gulf Cartel, and the Juarez Cartel are significant, critics worry that their removal from the playing field will result in more violence as underlings fight to replace them.

The Mexican public is demonstrating mixed feelings over Pena Nieto's version of the drug war. According to an El Universal poll conducted last week, almost half thought that drug war violence had increased. Some 49% of respondents said it had, up nine points from February, while only 25% thought security had improved and another 25% thought things were about the same.

Still, only 34% said they thought Pena Nieto's strategy had made the country less safe, down from the 53% recorded in May 2012, during the last months of the Calderon presidency. And 59% said they had seen evidence of a new strategy, compared to 24% saying they saw no difference.

When it comes to restoring order and public safety, Mexicans were split on how to do it. Only 10% wanted more arrests and trials of cartel bosses, while 24% wanted to see the cartels smashed, and 27% said the priority should be to lower the violence.

Mexico

India Police to Spray Maoist Rebels' Marijuana Crops

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

Maoist Naxalite rebels (platypus1917.org)
For decades, the Maoist rebels, also known as Naxalites, have waged a low-level guerrilla campaign against the Indian state beginning in West Bengal in the 1970s. Their presence has spread through eastern and southern India, and by 2006, they boasted 20,000 cadre in arms and another 50,000 in close support.

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

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

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

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

India

Legalize/Decriminalize Marijuana, Canadians Say

The Canadian public strongly supports reforming the country's marijuana laws, according to a new Forum Research poll. The survey found that 69% either want to see marijuana legalized, taxed, and regulated or see the possession of small amounts decriminalized.

The poll comes just weeks after Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau called for legalization, bringing new life to the long-running debate on pot policy north of the border. It also comes just a week after Canadian police chiefs called for decriminalization, although they didn't want to use that word, instead preferring to say they wanted a "ticketing option."

Support for legalization was slightly higher (36%) than for decriminalization (34%), but the combined support for pot law reform was far ahead of support for the status quo (15%) or increasing marijuana penalties (13%). Only 3% were undecided.

Among political parties, support was strongest among self-described Liberals (76%), followed by New Democrats (72%), and even 61% of Conservatives. The Conservative government of Prime Minister Steven Harper has positioned itself as the party of cracking down on marijuana, but the ministers might want to check in with their base.

The poll also asked respondents whether Trudeau's recent admission that he had smoked pot while a Member of Parliament would affect their vote. Nearly two-thirds (63%) said it did not matter, while one in five (21%) said they would be less likely to vote for him. Conversely, 14% said they would be more likely to vote for him.

"Justin Trudeau is ahead of the zeitgeist on this issue, and the government's disapproval of his position is a strength he can play to in the coming months. Decriminalization or legalization has majority support right across the country, even among Conservative voters, and there appears to be little downside to this issue for him," said Forum Research President Dr. Lorne Bozinoff.

Canada

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