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Chronicle AM -- November 4, 2013

Remember Bernie Goetz? He made the news again over the weekend, and so did Florida's medical marijuana initiative. There's also drug policy news from around the world. Let's get to it

Colorado medical marijuana dispensaries like this one could reopen as adult pot stores on January 1. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana

Let A Hundred Pot Shops Bloom…in Colorado. The Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division reported late last week that it has received applications from 136 people seeking to open adult use marijuana retail stores. By law, only people currently operating medical marijuana businesses could apply. Those who applied by the end of October will have decisions on their applications before year's end, meaning they could open on January 1, the earliest date adult marijuana sales will be allowed in the state.

NYC Subway Vigilante Bernie Goetz Busted in Penny Ante Marijuana Sting. The New York City man who became a national figure after shooting four teens who asked him for money on the subway back in 1984 was arrested last Friday over a $30 marijuana sale. Bernie Goetz is accused of selling the miniscule amount of marijuana to an undercover officer.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Lawmakers Oppose Medical Marijuana Initiative. Florida House and Senate leaders said late last week that they will join Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) in asking the state Supreme Court to block a medical marijuana initiative from going to the ballot. "We certainly don't want a situation like they've got in Colorado," explained state Rep. Doug Holder (R-Venice). Petitioners have gathered only about 200,000 of the more than 600,000 signatures they need to make the ballot. They have until February, unless the state Supreme Court puts the kibosh on the effort.

Florida Governor Candidate Supports Medical Marijuana Initiative. Candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination Nan Rich said last Friday she supports a proposed medical marijuana ballot initiative. "I’ve seen the research, I’ve studied the issue, and I’ve met with patients who clearly benefit and desperately need medically prescribed cannabis," Rich said in a statement. "That's why I’m signing the petition to get this important measure on the ballot in 2014 and I’m calling on all of my friends and supporters to do the same.  There is simply no reason patients should suffer when an effective, safe, and organic remedy is readily available."

Washington State Regulators to Hold Hearing on Controversial Medical Marijuana Plans. The Washington state Liquor Control Board announced last Friday it will hold a hearing November 13 in Lacey to take public testimony on proposed changes to the state's medical marijuana system. Regulators have issued draft recommendations that would reduce the amount of medical marijuana patients could possess and end their ability to grow their own, among other things.

International

Canada SSDP to Hold National Conference in Vancouver. Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) will hold its sixth annual conference on November 22-24 in Vancouver, BC. Featured speakers will include Donald McPherson, head of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition; Dana Larsen, director of Sensible BC and the Vancouver Dispensary Society; and Missi Woolrdige, director of DanceSafe, among others.

Hong Kong Docs Criticize Government Drug Testing Plan. The Hong Kong Medical Association said Monday that a government plan to allow police to test anyone for drug use based on "reasonable suspicion" is flawed and violates basic human rights. The local government began a four-month consultation on the plan in September, and now the doctors have weighed in. The association said that drug testing was an unproven method of reducing drug use and resources should instead be devoted to prevention and education campaigns and cooperation with mainland police against drug trafficking.

India to Greatly Expand Opiate Maintenence Centers. Responding to an increase in the number of injection drug users, the Indian government is moving to expand the number of its Opiate Substitution Therapy (OST) centers six-fold, from a current 52 to 300 by the end of the year. Drug user groups, including the Indian Drug Users Forum, and harm reduction groups, such as Project Orchid have been involved in planning the expansion. It's not clear what drug the Indians are using in OST. 

Ireland Parliament to Debate Marijuana Legalization This Week. A private motion by independent Dail, or Irish parliament, member Luke "Ming" Flanagan will be debated on Tuesday and Wednesday. Flanagan's bill would make it legal to possess, grow, and sell marijuana products.

Cartel Violence Flares in Mexican Border Town. Sunday shoot-outs between rival drug trafficking organizations and between traffickers and soldiers left at least 13 people dead in the Mexican border town of Matamoros, just across the Rio Grande River from Brownville, Texas. Four men and a woman were killed in clashes between rival gangs, and eight more died in fighting with Mexican Marines. Somewhere north of 75,000 people have been killed in violence since former President Felipe Calderon called out the armed forces to wage war on the cartels six and a half years ago. Meanwhile, the drugs continue to flow north and the guns and cash flow south.

(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.)

Slovakia to Drop Marijuana Seeds from Drug List

Marijuana seeds will no longer be illegal in Slovakia as of March 2014, according to a report in the Slovak Spectator. The decision came Wednesday in a proposal from the Health Ministry.

The Slovak capital, Bratislava (wikipedia.org)
While the move has yet to be confirmed by parliament and the president, the deed is considered as good as done because parliament is dominated by the Smer Perty and President Ivan Gasparovic is widely viewed as a Smer ally.

The Health Ministry proposal says that pot seeds should not be considered controlled substances because they do not contain any psychoactive compounds. The law change applies only to marijuana seeds; the possession or cultivation of the plant will remain illegal.

Under current Slovak drug laws, possession of "personal use" amounts of any drug, including marijuana, is punishable by up to either three or five years in prison, depending on the amount. Amounts less than three personal doses earn the lower penalty, while amounts of up to 10 doses garner the larger penalty. Greater amounts trigger the Slovak equivalent of "possession with intent to distribute" charges, with stiffer penalties.

Slovak drug use levels in general, and marijuana use levels in particular, tend toward the lower side of European norms. Some 3.6% of Slovak adults, for instance, report using marijuana, compared with a European high of 10%. For young adults, the figures are 7.6% for Slovaks, compared to a European high of 18%.

Bratislava
Slovakia

Marijuana Reform Could Earn UK Billions a Year, Studies Say

special to the Chronicle by London-based Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

Hundreds of users of medical marijuana protested outside Parliament last Wednesday to demand changes to Britain's strict cannabis laws, a move many experts believe could yield billions of pounds in tax revenue and save the government billions in policing costs.

Under current law, it is illegal for British citizens to consume or possess cannabis.

Estimates vary on the financial impact of legalizing and taxing the drug, a longstanding proposal by reform advocates. A recent study by the Institute for Social and Economic Research found that the government would gain up to £1.25bn a year. A 2011 study by the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit found the amount could range from £3.4 billion to £9.5 billion per annum, with a best estimate of £6.7 billion per year based on current market prices.

Commenting on the protester's demands, Peter Reynolds of Clear UK, a Norwich-based organization which seeks to reform cannabis laws, said that both studies are likely underreporting the real potential value to the British government and taxpayer.

"All the estimates are based on self-reporting of cannabis use," he said, adding that people were reluctant to admit to what is a criminal activity under current law.

Reynolds added he believes that cannabis reform's potential economic benefits are currently outweighed by political considerations.

"Britain is obsessed with cannabis psychosis stories, so we cannot start talking about rational things like cost. There is not the same intelligent discussion going on as in the United States," he said.

This view was echoed by Rupert George, the head of communications for Release, an organization which lobbies for drug laws to be based on public health issues rather than criminal justice.

"There is far more entrenched 'reefer madness' than in the US, with the dominant issue being about psychosis," he said. "The idea of a regulated drug market for cannabis, or any other drug, is politically a long way away."

While the British government's official stance is that cannabis has no proven medicinal value, in March 2013 the government announced that Sativex -- a cannabis based mouth spray produced by GW Pharmaceuticals -- could be prescribed to multiple sclerosis patients.

Alan Pavia, a spokesman for NORML UK (a British affiliate of the US-based National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), which organized Wednesday's protest, said that the rescheduling of Sativex demonstrates the British government's double standards with regards to medical cannabis.

"Now GW Pharmaceuticals has a license to grow marijuana for Sativex. It would seem that Sativex is scheduled in a different manner to protect this company," he said.

Through a spokeswoman, Home Office Crime Prevention Secretary Norman Baker said simply that "the government has no plans to legalize cannabis."

Currently, ten EU countries and 20 American states allow for the medical use of marijuana. Some countries, such as the Netherlands, legally regulate the recreational use of the plant, while others, such as Portugal, have decriminalized possession. Two American states -- Colorado and Washington -- have legalized recreational use of marijuana.

United Kingdom

Jamaica Debates Marijuana Decriminalization

Lawmakers in Kingston Tuesday debated marijuana decriminalization, even though there is no bill pending or vote scheduled. The move came as the evergreen issue of marijuana law reform picks up momentum in the home of reggae and Rastafari, with other Caribbean and nearby island nations and US states contemplating similar pot law changes.

Marijuana decriminalization or legalization has been a topic of discussion in Jamaica for decades, but no governments have moved beyond the talking stage. As the winds of change blow across the hemisphere, however, pressure for reform is mounting.

In Tuesday's debate, lawmakers complained that young men are getting criminal records for possession of ganja at the rate of 300 a week. Those criminal records lessen those people's job prospects, the lawmakers said.

"There is no doubt that ganja can have harmful effects on an individual. But this does not warrant criminalization of thousands of Jamaicans for their personal choice and use, some for reasons deep-rooted in culture," opposition Jamaica Labor Party lawmaker Daryl Vaz, a former information minister, said in remarks reported by LinkUpRadio.com.

"For personal use, the punishment of a criminal record is too much," agreed People's National Party (PNP) Minister of State for Tourism & Entertainment Damion Crawford, the son of a Rastafarian. Too many Jamaicans suffer the consequences of those criminal records for ganja, he added.

The debate came after a PNP lawmaker, Raymond Pryce, filed a motion to open discussion. Pryce argued that the plant has long been a part of Jamaica's history despite being prohibited in 1913. Pryce said that there was great commercial and medicinal potential in the plant. The plant has long been used medicinally as well as recreationally by rural Jamaicans, and is considered a sacred sacrament by Rastafarians.

More than a decade ago, a government-appointed commission recommending decriminalizing the possession and cultivation of small amounts of pot, saying the herb was "culturally entrenched" in the county, but that recommendation went nowhere in the face of fears of angering the US. Now, with two US states having already legalized marijuana and more getting in line to do so, the fear of dire reaction from Washington has largely dissipated.

Kingston
Jamaica

UN Drug Chief Warns of Afghanistan "Narco-State"

Afghanistan could collapse into a "full-fledged narco-state" as the looming withdrawal of US and NATO combat forces creates a gaping hole in the center of the country's economy, Yuri Fedotov, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warned Wednesday.

In an interview with Reuters, Fedotov noted that the Western forces generate about a third of all jobs and investment in Afghanistan. They are due to leave the country by the end of next year, and even the presence of a residual force of up to 10,000 fighters is increasingly in doubt as the US and Afghan haggle over a status of forces agreement that would allow them to stay.

The other major economic activity in the country is opium production, processing, and distribution, including the manufacture of heroin from raw opium, which accounts for roughly another third of the national economy. Since the US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, it has consistently been the world's leading source of illicit opium production, accounting for nearly 90% of all poppies produced worldwide.

Multi-hundred million dollar annual cash flows associated with the opium economy have benefited the Taliban insurgency, which taxes farmers in areas it controls as well as engaging in or protecting drug trafficking. They have also benefited corrupt Afghan government officials and associated warlords.

Fedotov, whose native Russia has been flooded with Afghan heroin, said Wednesday that an upcoming UNODC survey due later this month will show increases in both opium cultivation and production.

"The situation is worsening, that is clear and very disappointing," he said. "It is a very serious setback, but we need to take that as a warning shot," he added, calling for increased international assistance.

"That is also fertile ground for corruption and other forms of transnational organized crime. It is a multi-faceted challenge and we need to take that as a serious problem," Fedotov warned. "Otherwise we have a serious risk that without international support, without more meaningful assistance, this country may continue to evolve into a full-fledged narco-state," he said. "We have not been able to develop an alternative economy in Afghanistan," Fedotov said. "With all our efforts, it was very hard to move from illicit to licit."

Oh, and those Afghan farmers? When they're not producing opium, they're producing cannabis. Afghanistan is also one of the world's preeminent producers of it, according to UNODC, and production was up again last year, the group reported last month.

Afghanistan

Venezuela to Shoot Down Drug Planes

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro warned last week this his government will shoot down planes using Venezuelan air space to smuggle drugs. The National Assembly passed a law allowing for such actions in May, but it did not go into effect until this month.

"Let drug traffickers know that starting today any plane that enters Venezuela (to smuggle drugs) will be forced to land in peace, or else it will by shot down by our Sukhoi, our F-16s and the entire Venezuelan Air Force," Maduro said in a speech last Wednesday. "I will begin applying this law immediately in coordination with our armed forces," he added.

While Venezuela is not a drug-producing country, it has become a key transit route for cocaine produced in neighboring Colombia, only this year displaced by Peru as the world's leading coca and cocaine producer. The US government has placed Venezuela and its South American ally Bolivia on its annual list of countries not complying with US drug war objectives, a charge both countries categorically rejected. (Oddly enough, neither Colombia nor Peru are on that list, nor Mexico, the country from which the most drugs are imported to the US.)

The drug plane shoot-down law, known officially as the Law of Control for the Integral Defense of Airspace, was originally proposed in 2011 by the late President Hugo Chavez. After Chavez's death last December, the law was approved by the National Assembly.

While an apparent violation of international civil aviation law, the shooting down of civilian planes suspected of drug running led to the downing of at least 30 planes by Peruvian authorities in the 1990s. The US suspended its cooperation with Peru in that effort after Peruvian fighter jets working with CIA spotters blasted a plane carrying American missionaries out of the sky in 2001, resulting in the deaths of Veronica Bowers and her infant child. Brazil also has had such a policy in place since 2004.

Caracas
Venezuela

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

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