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Crucial New Campaign Needs Your Help

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Dear reformer:

We have launched an important and unique new campaign, and I am writing to ask your help -- financial with a donation, activist through the involvement of your own organization, or both.

The campaign is a US-based coalition taking on international drug policy in the US and at the UN. It is the first coalition of its type in drug policy reform. We released our first statement -- a broad and groundbreaking one -- at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs Meeting in Vienna last week. The statement was distributed to the 200 national delegations and agencies in attendance. Over 50 organizations have endorsed the statement so far, some of them major.

This project is important for a number of reasons:

  • Marijuana legalization challenges a provision of the UN drug treaties that calls for drugs to be criminalized.
  • The treaties potentially threaten US legalization -- when the states of Oklahoma and Nebraska challenged Colorado's law in court, treaty obligations was one of the points they made. I don't believe that US courts will overturn state legalization or that they'll do so because of the treaties, but we can't be sure.
  • The treaties deter many other countries that might be interested in trying out legalization from doing so. Having fewer countries to point to as examples in turn makes it a longer road for us here.
  • Many other issues are affected by international drug policy as well -- human rights issues, public health issues, economic development, human security, access to medicine.

The reason I'm writing now is that circumstances have lined up to give hope that we can get something done. But those circumstances have also created a need to move further and faster than we can do with our current resources:

  • The State Department has called for countries to have the flexibility to experiment with legalization, of marijuana or other drugs -- a 180 degree reversal from the US's longtime global drug warrior stance. But they have also opposed amending the treaties to match the stance.
  • Last week the first country, Jamaica, announced it will work for reform of the drug treaties, a game-changer if they can get support from other countries. There needs to be a strong voice from the US supporting them.
  • In May the UN in New York will hold a "Thematic Session," on drug policy, pushed for by the government of Mexico against tough resistance, their goal being an "open discussion." Congress is likely to take up its foreign affairs appropriations legislation in June, with hearings before then.
  • In late June the UN will hold its annual "International Day Against Drug Abuse," and release its annual World Drug Report, an important moment in the debate on global drug policy. We need to be prepared to make our case in the media and to take part in global demonstrations being organized by reformers.
  • All of these events lead up to the April 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), the biggest major opportunity to engage drug policy at the UN since 1998. The UNGASS was originally to be held in 2019, but was moved up at the request of Latin American governments who stated they want to see change in drug policy.
  • Last but not least, one of the most egregious human rights violations in the drug war, the death penalty for nonviolent drug offenses, has provoked outrage in several countries whose citizens face execution in Indonesia and has captured the attention of the media. There was passionate discussion of this in Vienna, and it's going to continue in New York. We need to press the UN and the US government to stop using our taxpayer dollars to fund work in these countries that can lead to executions.

For our coalition to take a forceful stand:

  • We need to hire staff for it;
  • We need to increase the amount of time that current staff can spend on it; and
  • We need to contract for media relations help.

Donations to our tax-deductible nonprofit, DRCNet Foundation, and our non-deductible lobbying nonprofit, Drug Reform Coordination Network, both can be put toward this project and support those needs. Please visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate to donate by credit card or PayPal, or send your check or money order (made out to one of the two names listed above) to P.O. 9853, Washington, DC 20016. We also accept donations by stock -- the information to give your brokerage is Ameritrade, (800) 669-3900), DTC #0188, and account number 781926492 for tax-deductible gifts to DRCNet Foundation or 864663500 for non-deductible gifts to Drug Reform Coordination Network -- please contact us if you are donating in this way.

If your organization can endorse our statement (linked above), or you would like to consider it but need more information, please let us know by replying to this email or writing to borden@drcnet.org. I would also be happy to speak with potential endorsers or coalition supporters by phone as well.

Thank you for being a part of drug policy reform and for your support of our work. With your help we will succeed -- time, and the truth, are on our side!

Sincerely,

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
P.O. Box 9853
Washington, DC 20016
http://stopthedrugwar.org

Chronicle AM: Good New Pot Polls, State Dept. Drug Report Released, UN Iran Drug Aid Criticized, More (3/19/15)

A new national pot poll has good numbers and so does a Vermont poll, a Washington state home grow bill is filed, a Missouri hemp bill moves, the DEA warns on fentanyl, critics pounce on the UNODC over aid to Iran, and more.

UNODC is preparing a new drug aid package for Iran despite the country's resort to the death penalty. (handsoffcain.info)
Marijuana

Benenson Strategy Group Poll Has Support for Legalization at 61% Nationwide. The poll, which has a 3.5 +/- margin of error, also has 72% for decriminalization. A General Social Survey poll, the "gold standard" of polls, last week had support at 52%. Other recent polls have also found support above the 50% mark. In this week's BSG poll, Republicans were practically split, but 59% of GOP voters under age 50 supported legalization.

Massachusetts Initiative Group Warns Legislators on Excessive Taxation. The group Bay State Repeal, which intends to run a legalization initiative campaign next year, has released a statement saying it welcomed legislative efforts to legalize it, but cautioned against excessive taxation and fees. "A major aim of legalization is to limit access to minors by driving out the black market," the group said in its statement. "But inevitably, unlicensed producers will continue to supply consumers at the black market if legal marijuana is more expensive."

Vermont Poll Has Support for Legalization at 54%. A new Castleton Polling Institute survey has a majority for legalization, with 70% of respondents under 45 in favor and 61% of respondents over 65 opposed. The poll comes as the legislature considers a legalization bill, but signs are the bill will not move this year.

Washington State Bill Would Allow Home Grows. Washington is the only legalization state that does not allow home cultivation (except for medical), but a pair of bills introduced today would change that. Senate Bill 6083, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, and House Bill 2196, sponsored by Rep. Brian Blake, would let adults 21 and over grow up to six plants and possess up to eight ounces of their harvest.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolinians Rally for New Medical Marijuana Bill in Raleigh. More than a hundred people rallied at the state capitol today in support of House Bill 317, which would allow for medical marijuana use by terminally ill patients. Rep. Kelly Alexander formally introduced it today.

Tennessee GOP Senator Says He Will File Medical Marijuana Bill. State Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) said today he is working on a bill that would allow for medical marijuana. He said he expected to have final details by Monday. A Democratic bill in the House has yet to make it out of committee.

Hemp

Missouri Hemp Bill Heads for House Floor Vote -- Maybe. An industrial hemp bill, H.B. 830 has passed its final House committee hurdle and awaits a House floor vote. But it is unclear whether House Majority Leader Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) will give it time for a debate and a vote.

Opiates

DEA Warns on Fentanyl. Fentanyl is increasingly showing up in heroin, the DEA warned yesterday. The opioid is up to 50 times stronger than heroin, and dealers are using it to increase the potency of their products, but the result can be accidental overdoses. "Drug incidents and overdoses related to fentanyl are occurring at an alarming rate throughout the United States and represent a significant threat to public health and safety," said DEA administrator Michele Leonhart.

International

State Department Releases Annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. "The two-volume report offers a comprehensive assessment of the efforts of foreign governments to reduce illicit narcotics production, trafficking and use, in keeping with their international obligations under UN treaties, while also presenting information on governments' efforts to counter money laundering and terrorist financing," State says. Click on the link to read the report.

UNODC Preparing New Iran Aid Deal Despite Drug Executions. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is planning a new five-year financial assistance deal with Iran, one of the world's leading executioners for drug crimes. Iran executed at least 350 drug offenders last year and about two a day so far this year. That has critics very unhappy. "Iran has hanged more than a hundred so-called drug offenders this year, and the UN has responded by praising the efficiency of the Iranian drug police and lining them up a generous five-year funding deal," said Maya Foa, strategic director of the death penalty team for Reprieve, a British advocacy group.

Israeli Marijuana Party Fails to Reach Threshold to Enter Knesset. Aleh Yarok, the Israeli political party pushing for marijuana legalization, failed to gain the 3.25% of the popular vote needed to give it representation in the Knesset. Aleh Yarok garnered only 38,000 votes, or 0.97% of the vote. The party may have lost some votes to Meretz, which appealed to youth voters by also embracing marijuana reforms.

Chronicle AM: MT MMJ Comeback Bill, NJ Edibles A Step Closer, Dark Web Drug Site Goes Dark, More (3/18/15)

There will be a bill to restore the medical marijuana status quo ante in Montana, a Nevada bill would allow it for pets, New Jersey releases guidelines for edibles producers, a North Carolina bill targets pregnant women who use drugs, and more.

Medical Marijuana

Montana Medical Marijuana Bill Coming. State Sen. Robyn Driscoll (D) says she will file a bill this week to allow the sale for profit of medical marijuana, remove limits on the number of patients a caregiver can grow for, allow for advertising, allow for the trade in plants and seedlings, and remove a requirement that doctors who recommend for more than 25 people in a year be reviewed by the Board of Medical Examiners. The provisions would enact parts of a district judge's decision permanently enjoining portions of a harsh 2011 medical marijuana law that undid much of the state's 2004 voter-approved medical marijuana initiative.

Nevada Bill Would Allow Medical Marijuana for Pets. State Sen. Tick Segerholm (D-Las Vegas) Wednesday introduced Senate Bill 372, which would allow pet owners to obtain marijuana for their animals upon a veteranarian's certification that it could help. He said he worries that some animals might have adverse reactions, but "you don't know until you try."

New Jersey Releases Standards for Edibles Producers. The Health Department has released regulations for growers who will produce medical marijuana edibles. The guidelines are a first step in a process that is likely to last months before the first edibles are available for sale. Click on the link for more details.

Tennessee CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday approved House Bill 197, which would allow for the use of low-THC cannabis oils by specified patients. The bill now goes to the House Health Committee, the last stop before a House floor vote. Companion legislation is moving through the Senate.

Pregnancy

North Carolina Bill Would Criminalize Drug Use During Pregnancy. State Sens. Brent Jackson (R-Autryville) and Louis Pate (R-Mount Olive) Tuesday filed a bill that would allow officials to charge a woman with assault if she uses drugs while pregnant. The measure is Senate Bill 297. Similar legislation passed in Tennessee in 2013.

International

UN Development Program Highlights Drug War's Costs to the World's Poor. UNDP, the agency charged with coming up with strategies to reduce world poverty, has slammed drug prohibition's disastrous impact on poor countries and their residents. The critique came in UNDP's formal submission to the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, whose preliminaries got underway last week as the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs met in Vienna.

Major Dark Web Drug Sales Web Site Goes Dark. The Evolution web site has vanished from the Dark Web. It halted withdrawals of vendors' bitcoin funds over the weekend, citing technical difficulties, then vanished Tuesday night. Some $12 million in bitcoins may have disappeared in what some are now calling a scam. The pseudonymous operators of the site are now facing threats from people who lost money.

Chronicle AM: NV Pot Init Will Go to Voters Next Year, Dark Web Drug Bust, Saudis Behead Three, More (3/13/15)

Nevada is the first state in line to legalize it in 2016 after the legislature failed to act this week, a controversial Ohio legalization initiative wins a preliminary approval to move forward, there was a major dark web drug bust in Germany this week, and more.

thousands of ecstasy pills seized by German police in bust of one vendor on one dark web drug sales site
Marijuana

DC Cannabis Campaign to Host Pot Seed Exchange. The folks behind the Measure 71 marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative will be hosting two seed exchanges this month. "This will be DC residents' opportunity to share seeds with other adults and start down the path of legally growing your own cannabis in the safety and privacy of your home," the campaign announced Thursday.

Nevada Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization Next Year. After the state legislature failed to act by a deadline today, marijuana legalization is headed to the ballot next year. Initiative organizers have already taken all the necessary steps for the vote to take place. The legislature could have approved the initiative itself, but instead punted. Read the initiative here.

Ohio Attorney General Approves Petition Summary for Responsible Ohio Legalization Initiative. The attorney general's approval means ResponsibleOhio now goes to the Ohio Ballot Board for its approval. Their meeting will take place in about 10 days. Read the ResponsibleOhio initiative here. If the Ballot Board approves, ResponsibleOhio must then gather 305,591 valid signatures of registered Ohio voters from at least 44 of 88 counties to get the measure on the fall ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Medical Marijuana Bill Gets New GOP Cosponsor. A second Republican senator has signed on to the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act (Senate Bill 683). Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) joins fellow Republican Sen. Rand Paul (KY) and Democrats Cory Booker (NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY).

Georgia Senate Passes Restrictive CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The Senate passed Senate Bill 185, which would allow parents bringing CBD cannabis oil into the state to treat their children with epilepsy to be exempted from criminal prosecution, but would not allow medical marijuana in any other form and would not let adults or children with other diseases use it. The House has passed a broader CBD bill; the Senate Health Committee chair has promised it will try to reconcile the two bills.

International

China Withdraws UN Motion to Make Ketamine a Controlled Substance. After lobbying from Canadian researchers and others who said ketamine is a crucial anesthetic for poorer countries, China today withdrew its motion before the UN Committee on Narcotic Drugs to schedule the drug. The Chinese said they would defer their resolution for another year so ketamine can be studied more.

Germans in Major Dark Web Drug Bust. Police in Leipzig announced yesterday that they had raided 38 locations and arrested seven people, as well as seizing more than 700 pounds of cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, amphetamines, marijuana, and hash. The bust was of only one seller on the dark website Evolution, but the Deep Dot Web blog, which closely tracks the online narcotics trade, calls the law enforcement operation the biggest Dark Web drug bust ever. Still, the vendor busted represented only a fraction of the 20,000 drug listings on Evolution, and that's just one dark web drug sales site.

Saudi Arabia Beheads Three For Drug Smuggling. A Yemeni, a Syrian, and a Saudi national were executed in the kingdom this week for smuggling amphetamines and hashish into the country. That makes about 20 drug executions so far this year in the county, about half of the 43 executions reported so far.

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Legal in Alaska Tomorrow, Kosher MedMJ in NY, Chinese Meth, More (2/23/15)

Alaska's Measure 2 legalization begins to kick in tomorrow, the UFCW organizes medical marijuana workers in Minnesota, Chuck Schumer wants more drug war money, India bans the new synthetic drug mephedrone, and more. Let's get to it:

Mephedrone, now banned in India. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

First Phase of Alaska Legalization Goes Into Effect Tomorrow. As of Tuesday, February 24, 2015, the first phase of Alaska's voter-approved Measure 2 marijuana legalization goes into effect. Beginning then, people 21 and over can legally possess up to an ounce of weed and grow up to six plants in their home (only three flowering). Adults may also share up to an ounce of weed with other adults and give them up to six plants. Taxed and regulated marijuana commerce will come next year. Click on the link for more.

Maryland Legalization Bill Gets Hearing Tomorrow. The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing in the General Assembly on Tuesday, February 24, to consider a bill that would regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol. Supporters of the bill, including representatives of the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland, are expected to testify. The hearing will take place in Room 101 of the House Office Building at 1:00pm ET. The bill is House Bill 911, sponsored by Rep. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore).

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Workers Unionize. Workers at Minnesota Medical Solutions, which will operate four medical marijuana dispensaries, have signed a labor agreement with the company under the auspices of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UCFW), Local 1189. The union is also in discussions about representing workers at the other four planned dispensaries in the state, which will be operated by LeafLine Labs. The UFCW has also organized marijuana workers in California, Colorado, and Washington.

Missouri Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Hearing Today. Rep. Dave Hinson's (R-St. Clair) House Bill 800, which would allow for medical marijuana for eligible payments, was set to get a House hearing today. Come back tomorrow for results.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. On the last day to file Senate bills in the legislative session, Sen. Mitch Carmichael (R-Ripley) introduced Senate Bill 546, the "Creating Compassionate Use Act for Medical Cannabis." The bill would allow for medical marijuana for designated debilitating medical conditions and would require patients and caregivers to be registered with the state. The bill now goes before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Kosher Medical Marijuana Coming to New York? Orthodox Jews in New York may soon be able to get kosher medical marijuana. Rabbi Moshe Elefant, head of the Orthodox Union's kosher certification agency said he has held "preliminary discussions" with several companies seeking to obtain a kosher seal of approval for medical marijuana. Click on the link for more.

Law Enforcement

Chuck Schumer Lobbies to Restore HIDTA Funding Cuts. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said Sunday Congress should reject President Obama's plan to cut funding for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program. "This is one area where I disagree with the president, and I'm going to fight to reverse his decision," Schumer said. He wants $100 million in drug war funding restored, in part to fight heroin use in his state.

International

UN Official Blames "Corrupt" Chinese Pharmaceutical Industry for Meth Production. Chinese police recently busted 2.4 tons of meth in Guangdong Province, provoking UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) official Jeremy Douglas to say that "corruption in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries" in China was behind the easy availability of chemicals needed to mass produce the drugs. "To operate a lab like this, you need a lot of chemicals, which are legitimate, regulated chemicals from the pharmaceutical industry," Douglas said. "This group has been able to get their hands on the precursor chemicals necessary to produce the drugs. They've been doing it for a long time, which means they're getting these chemicals on a regular basis. There is some kind of corruption in the chemical/pharmaceutical industry taking place allowing this to happen."

India Bans Mephedrone. India has now classified mephedrone (also known as "Meow-Meow" or "M-Cat") as a psychotropic substance that falls under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1985. That means mephedrone will now be treated as a controlled substance like heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine. Previously, the new synthetic was not regulated in the country.

The Big Global Drug Policy Stories of 2014 [FEATURE]

2014 was a big year for drug reform, and for a change, the US is pulling things in the right direction. But it some places, it's been business as usual, and in others, things have gone in the wrong direction. Here are our big international stories of the year.

Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield dropped a bombshell in October. (state.gov)
Marijuana Legalization Expands in the US

Two more states and the District of Columbia legalized marijuana at the ballot box this year. That makes four states and DC that have legalized it. The US has historically been the leading enforcer of global drug prohibition, but the actions of voters in American states have seriously undercut the (now former, see below) US position, as well as providing an example to the rest of the world.

The US Signals a New Openness to Drug Reform at the International Level

In a little-heralded, but groundbreaking move, US Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield, head of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs"), made it clear that the US is willing to embrace flexibility, up to and including drug legalization in other countries, in the face of rising calls for international drug reform.

Brownfield succinctly laid out the US approach in an October speech: "First, respect the integrity of the existing UN Drug Control Conventions. Second, accept flexible interpretation of those conventions… Third, to tolerate different national drug policies, to accept the fact that some countries will have very strict drug approaches; other countries will legalize entire categories of drugs. All these countries must work together in the international community. We must have some tolerance for those differing policies. And our fourth pillar is agreement and consensus that whatever our approach and policy may be on legalization, decriminalization, de-penalization, we all agree to combat and resist the criminal organizations -- not those who buy, consume, but those who market and traffic the product for economic gain. Respect the conventions; flexible interpretation; tolerance for national policeis; criminal organizations -- that is our mantra."

Calls for an End to Drug Prohibition Increase as the 2016 UNGASS on Drugs Looms

This year saw the pressure for reform of the international drug control regime grow even more intense, and fractures in a now crumbling prohibitionist consensus grew even deeper. The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna in March revealed schisms among countries about future steps on global drug control even as the global drug bureaucrats gave signs of softening in some policy areas, especially around emphasizing public health as opposed to criminalization. The meeting ended with a formal joint ministerial statement agreed to at the last minute after months of contentious wrangling, but one where countries failed to agree on a common approach and where certain fractious issues -- such as the use of the death penalty for drug offenses or even the mention of the term "harm reduction" -- were omitted entirely.

Former UN head Kofi Annan made his drug reform presence felt this year. (un.org)
Countries critical of the global drug policy status quo, particularly from Europe and Latin America, were joined by an ever-stronger civil society presence at the CND. The message of reform grows ever louder and presages an especially contentious next step, the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, set for 2016.

During the rest of the year, the call for reform from civil society only grew louder. In May, the London School of Economics (LSE) published a Ending the Drug Wars: Report of the LSE Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy, signed onto by five Nobel Prize-winning economists, as well as political figures including British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Guatemalan Foreign Minister Luis Fernando Carrera Castro, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, former US Secretary of State George Schultz, and former European Union High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Dr. Javier Solana, among other luminaries.

"It is time to end the 'war on drugs' and massively redirect resources towards effective evidence-based policies underpinned by rigorous economic analysis," the report says forthrightly. "The pursuit of a militarized and enforcement-led global 'war on drugs' strategy has produced enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage. These include mass incarceration in the US, highly repressive policies in Asia, vast corruption and political destabilization in Afghanistan and West Africa, immense violence in Latin America, an HIV epidemic in Russia, an acute global shortage of pain medication and the propagation of systematic human rights abuses around the world."

That was followed in June by the West Africa Commission on Drugs, which was initiated by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan of Nigeria, is 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. The commission 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.

And then, in September, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which includes Annan, former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil), Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico) and Ruth Dreifuss (Switzerland), and others, issued a new report, Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work. It boldy called on "governments to decriminalize a variety of illegal drugs and set up regulated drug markets within their own countries."

Uruguay Forges Ahead With Marijuana Legalization

President Jose "Pepe" Mujica may be gone -- his term expired -- but his legacy of legalizing the marijuana trade lives on. There was some doubt as Uruguayans voted on his replacement -- the opposition candidate vowed to roll it back -- but they chose a successor from his same party who will uphold and implement the legal marijuana commerce plan. Uruguay never criminalized pot possession, and now it is the first country to legalize the trade. Implementation should continue apace next year.

Afghanistan Pumps Out More Opium

As the US and NATO declare an end to their Afghan war, Afghanistan is growing and producing as much opium as ever. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Afghanistan Opium Survey 2014, land under poppy cultivation increased 7% this year. UNODC estimated opium production this year at 6,400 tons, up 17% over last year. But while annual production has been at 6,000 tons or more for the past few years, it is not as high as the record year of 2007, when production totaled over 8,000 tons. And this as the US spent $7.6 billion to fight the opium trade since invading in 2001.

And the Golden Triangle Is Back, Too

Opium production increased again in Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle this year, continuing a pattern of growth that has now gone on for at least the past eight years. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2014, the region produced 762 tons of opium this year, with the vast majority coming from the Burmese Shan State. While Golden Triangle production accounts for only about 10% of global opium production, Burma is now the world's second largest opium producer, behind Afghanistan.

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow... and grow... and grow. (unodc.org)
Mexican Drug War

It's been the best of times and the worst of times for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and his government's prosecution of its war against the drug cartels. While media attention to the Mexican drug war has declined dramatically since 2012 -- an election year in both the US and Mexico -- the drug war hasn't gone away, and the death toll has plateaued, but not declined. The year started off great for Pena Nieto with the arrest of the heretofore seemingly invincible Chapo Guzman, head of the Sinaloa Cartel. Other major cartel figures have been killed or arrested throughout the year. But things turned sour again this fall when drug gang-connected elected officials in Iguala, Guerrero, sicced local police and the local Guerreros Unidos gang, on busloads of protesting radical teachers' college students, leaving 43 missing and presumed dead. That led to mass protests against lawlessness, official corruption, and impunity across the country.

Now Part of Russia, Crimea Rolls Back Harm Reduction Measures

Whatever one thinks of the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, it's been bad news for Crimean drug users. While Ukraine has embraced a harm reduction approach to hard drug use, Russia rejects such an approach and has some of the most repressive drug laws in the world. And it moved quickly in Crimea, banning the use of methadone almost immediately, which the International HIV/AIDS Alliance called "a disaster for health, human rights and the HIV epidemic in the region." By June, with more than 800 people cut off from access to opiate maintenance, activists were reporting 20 deaths among drug users and that many others had fled to Kiev, while those that remained were turning to street drugs. Things have only gotten worse, and Ukraine shares somes of the responsibility for using the opiate maintenance programs as a political weapon against Crimea. Now, only does the ban on opiate maintenance remain, but drug users face assaults in the streets, as well as stays in jail. And the only "treatment" offered is Russian-style "psychiatric treatment."

Chronicle AM: UT Defelonization Proposed, TX Pot Bills Coming, Afghan Opium Fiasco, More (10/22/14)

Texas will see marijuana reform legislation next year, "Brownie Mary" Democratic Clubs come to California's East Bay, Utah will consider drug defelonization, Afghan poppy fiasco, and more. Let's get to it:

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow... (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy Project Takes Aim at Texas. The Marijuana Policy Project is working with legislators in Austin to craft a trio of marijuana reform bills to be pre-filed next month. One would decriminalize pot possession, one would allow medical marijuana, and one would be a tax and regulate legalization bill. Click on the title for more details.

California "Brownie Mary" Democratic Clubs Spread to East Bay. Pro-marijuana legalization Democrats have organized the first "Brownie Mary" Democratic Club in the East Bay area. "Brownie Mary" Rathbun was a pioneering medical marijuana activist in San Francisco in the days before Prop 215, and the clubs are a means to articulate a marijuana reform agenda in Democratic Party circles. Now, Alameda County has one. There are others in Los Angeles, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, and San Francisco counties.

Sentencing

Utah Could Defelonize Drug Possession, Make Other Sentencing Reforms. The Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice Wednesday unveiled a sweeping series of proposed criminal justice reforms, including reducing simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. Other proposals would make drug sales the lowest degree felony and rework "drug free zone" statutes to focus on crimes where children are present. The proposals are expected to go before the legislature in January.

Law Enforcement

A Tale of Two Texas SWAT Drug Raids Where Officers Were Killed. Mother Jones magazine examines the results in two recent Texas SWAT drug raids that left police officers dead. In one case, the shooter was a white marijuana grower. In the other, the shooter was a black man who had a glass pipe. Guess which one got charged with murder and which one didn't. A good, provocative read; check it out at the link.

International

US Spent $7.6 Billion to Fight Afghan Opium Poppy Cultivation, But It's Now at An All-Time High. The US special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction has called into question US drug policy there after finding that, despite the US spending $7.6 billion to fight the opium trade since it invaded in 2001, the amount of land dedicated to poppy cultivation is at an all-time high of 523,000 acres. "In past years, surges in opium poppy cultivation have been met by a coordinated response from the US government and coalition partners, which has led to a temporary decline in levels of opium production," John Sopko said in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and other top US officials. "The recent record-high level of poppy cultivation calls into question the long-term effectiveness and sustainability of those prior efforts,"he said on Tuesday. "With deteriorating security in many parts of Afghanistan and low levels of eradication of poppy fields, further increases in cultivation are likely in 2014," he added.

Chronicle AM: State Dept. Okay With Legalization Elsewhere, Bolivia's Morales Reelected, More (10/14/14)

The State Department's point man on international drug affairs signals a new flexibility in US policy, Bolivia's coca farmer President Evo Morales wins reelection, the DC initiative wins more endorsements, the Florida medical marijuana initiative is in danger, and more.

Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement William Brownfield says some surprising things.
Marijuana Policy

DC Initiative Picks Up Labor, Working Families Endorsements. DC's Measure 71 marijuana cultivation and possession legalization initiative has been endorsed by two labor unions and a District-based activist group. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the United Commercial Food Workers (UCFW) have come on board, citing the elimination of racially discriminatory enforcement and the removal of barriers to job opportunities. So has DC Working Families, a progressive social justice activist group.

Northern California Marijuana Summit Being Planned in Advance of 2016 Effort. Aware that a well-connected California marijuana legalization initiative is coming in 2016, some Northern California counties are laying the groundwork for a regional summit on the issue. Mendocino County CEO Carmel Angelo told county supervisors last week that the impending legalization initiative had led her to have discussion with other county CEOs about forming a Northern California Cannabis Summit next year. The proposed meeting would discuss possible economic, regulatory, taxation and policy implications to prepare for 2016 legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Latest Poll Has Florida Initiative at 52% -- It Needs 60% to Win. A new poll with a large sample and small margin of error has the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative coming up short. According to the SaintPetersBlog poll, a slim majority (52%) supports the initiative, but that's not enough because, as a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% of the vote to pass. The poll sample consisted of 3,128 Florida registered voters who said they were planning to vote in the election and has a margin of error of +/- 1.8%. The poll is roughly in line with other recent surveys that have shown Amendment 2 polling in the 50s.

Drug Policy

State Department's Drugs Point Man Signals US Flexibility on Drug Reform. In a speech last week at the United Nations, Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield, the head of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs"), made it clear that the US is willing to embrace flexibility, up to and including drug legalization in other countries, in the face of rising calls for international drug reform. Brownfield succinctly laid out the US approach: "First,... respect the integrity of the existing UN Drug Control Conventions. Second, accept flexible interpretation of those conventions. The first of them was drafted and enacted in 1961. Things have changed since 1961. We must have enough flexibility to allow us to incorporate those changes into our policies. Third, to tolerate different national drug policies, to accept the fact that some countries will have very strict drug approaches; other countries will legalize entire categories of drugs. All these countries must work together in the international community. We must have some tolerance for those differing policies. And our fourth pillar is agreement and consensus that whatever our approach and policy may be on legalization, decriminalization, de-penalization, we all agree to combat and resist the criminal organizations -- not those who buy, consume, but those who market and traffic the product for economic gain. Respect the conventions; flexible interpretation; tolerance for national polices; criminal organizations -- that is our mantra." Click on the link to read the entirety of his remarks.

Houston Mayor Calls for "Complete Rethinking" of Nation's Drug Laws. Ten minutes into an interview with Dean Becker of the Drug Truth Network Annise Parker (D) unloaded on drug prohibition: "I agree with you that we need a complete rethinking of the nation's drug laws," she told Becker. "We have seen over and over again that outright prohibition doesn't work. We saw that in the '20s when the prohibition in this country fueled the rise of organized crime. At the same time we don't want in any way to send a message that illegal drugs are approved or appropriate, but we need to figure out a way to go to managing these drugs rather than simply saying, 'Don't do it or we are going to treat all illegal drugs the same.'" There is more; click on the title link to hear the whole thing.

International

Bolivia's Coca Farmer President Cruises to Easy Reelection. Coca farmer union leader Evo Morales has easily won reelection to an unprecedented third term as Bolivia's president. He won 59.5% of the vote, more than doubling the vote total of his nearest challenger in a five-man field and obviating the need for a runoff election. Although it remains one of the hemisphere's poorest countries, Bolivia's economy has flourished under the rule of Morales and his Movement to Socialism (MAS). The US has criticized Bolivia over its coca policies, but that didn't seem to be much of an issue in the elections.

Chronicle AM: NY Times Backs Marijuana Initiatives, UK Lib Dems Approve Drug Reforms, More (10/06/14)

The nation's leading newspaper endorses three marijuana legalization initiatives, the FDA sticks up for Zohydro, British Lib Dems endorse drug reforms as a new British poll suggests growing public support, Ecuador begins freeing drug mules under a new law, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

New York Times Endorses Alaska, Oregon, DC Legalization Initiatives. The editorial board of the New York Times endorsed all three initiatives in a Sunday editorial. The newspaper of record noted that all three entities had already legalized medical marijuana, and it "makes good sense" to go the rest of the way. "Opponents of legalization warn that states are embarking on a risky experiment," the newspaper said. "But the sky over Colorado has not fallen, and prohibition has proved to be a complete failure. It's time to bring the marijuana market out into the open and end the injustice of arrests and convictions that have devastated communities."

Oregon Legalization Campaign Gets Another $300,000 Donation. The Drug Policy Action Network, the campaign and lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, has kicked in another $300,000 for the Measure 91 legalization campaign. That means the group has now donated nearly a million dollars to the campaign, which has raised nearly $3 million overall.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Pilot Program Gets Underway. Three children's hospitals and the Department of Health are doing a research study on the use of CBD cannabis oil in children. The project, announced in May, is now underway. A broader, but still restrictive, medical marijuana bill has passed the Senate and awaits a vote in the House.

Drug Policy

Poll Finds Most See Drug Addiction as Moral Failing. Most Americans consider drug addiction a personal vice rather than a medical condition, according to a new poll from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Respondents were much more likely to approve of helping people with mental illness than with drug addictions, the poll found. "While drug addiction and mental illness are both chronic, treatable health conditions, the American public is more likely to think of addiction as a moral failing than a medical condition," study leader Colleen Barry, an associate professor in the department of health policy and management, said in a Hopkins news release. "In recent years, it has become more socially acceptable to talk publicly about one's struggles with mental illness. But with addiction, the feeling is that the addict is a bad or weak person, especially because much drug use is illegal," she added.

Prescription Opiates

FDA Responds to Critics on Zohydro. Responding to months of criticism over its decision to approve the prescription opiate pain reliever Zohydro ER, a trio of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials have written a piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association saying approval of the drug was warranted and criticism of the agency was misguided. Concentrating on one drug during a time of heightened concern over opiate misuse does not address the underlying problems of widespread misuse and physician overprescribing, they write. "The problem of opioid overdose demands well-informed policies. The actions taken by FDA may help to reverse the epidemic," they wrote. "Policies that focus on a single drug can divert focus from broader, further-reaching interventions… The concerns over Zohydro ER should be seen in the greater context of the opioid epidemic. Singling out one drug for restrictions is not likely to be successful."

International

British Liberal Democrats Approve Drug Reform Platform. The Lib Dems, junior partners in a coalition government with the Conservatives, Sunday approved a drug policy plank that calls for the decriminalization of drug possession and for the tightening of laws allowing police to stop and search people suspected of drug crimes. That puts them at odds with their coalition partners. The Lib Dems have presented their drug policy platform within the broader context of reducing crime, which has been going down, and reducing re-offending.

Poll Finds Most British Think Drug War a Huge Failure. A new Guardian poll finds that 84% think the war on drugs cannot be won, with 39% supporting the decriminalization of drug possession and a slight majority (52%) supporting marijuana legalization initiatives like those in Colorado and Washington. Click on the poll link for much more detail and discussion.

Ecuador Freeing Thousands of Drug Mules. Under a law that went into effect in August, Ecuador has begun quietly freeing thousands of people convicted of low-level cocaine smuggling offenses. The new law retroactively reduced jail sentences for drug mules, with some 500 already freed and at least another 2,200 to follow. The sentence reductions come only after a court hearing, which the prisoner must request. President Rafael Correa's father spent three years in a US prison as a drug mule.

UNODC Head Says Drug Legalization Could Cause More Deaths. Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Crime and Drugs (UNODC), said today that drug legalization could lead to increased consumption and more deaths. He was responding to a report last month from the Global Commission on Drug Policy that called for "experiments in legally regulating markets in currently illicit drugs," which he rejected. "I believe that such experimentation certainly will make drugs more available and (cheaper)," Fedotov said. "It means that we may face increased consumption of psychoactive substances which may result in more death and more suffering of individuals (and) their families."

World Leaders Call for Regulatory Alternatives to Drug Prohibition [FEATURE]

In a report released last night and in a New York City press conference this morning, a number of global leaders, including former heads of state, called for drug decriminalization and the regulation of psychoactive drug markets. Those same global leaders are meeting this afternoon with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and his deputy, Jan Eliasson.

These world leaders are members of the Global Commission on Drugs and their new report is Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work. The commission's members include former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Virgin Airlines founder Richard Branson, and more.

The report's executive summary lists a number of policy prescriptions, some of them quite breathtakingly bold:

  • Putting health and community safety first requires a fundamental reorientation of policy priorities and resources, from failed punitive enforcement to proven health and social interventions.
  • Focus on reducing the power of criminal organizations as well as the violence and insecurity that result from their competition with both one another and the state.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity presented by the upcoming UNGASS in 2016 to reform the global drug policy regime.
  • Rely on alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent, low-level participants in illicit drug markets such as farmers, couriers and others involved in the production, transport and sale of illicit drugs.
  • Stop criminalizing people for drug use and possession -- and stop imposing "compulsory treatment" on people whose only offense is drug use or possession.
  • Allow and encourage diverse experiments in legally regulating markets in currently illicit drugs, beginning with but not limited to cannabis, coca leaf and certain novel psychoactive substances.
  • Ensure equitable access to essential medicines, in particular opiate-based medications for pain.

In other words, decriminalize drug possession, legalize and regulate drug markets, and end the failed decades-long embrace of prohibitionism. This is a policy advance from the Commission's initial 2011 report, which, while breaking new ground in advancing the debate of drug prohibition, did not go as far as calling for efforts to regulate and legalize drugs.

Global Commission meeting in Warsaw last year, with four former presidents present. (globalcommissionondrugs.org)
"Ultimately, the global drug control regime must be reformed to permit legal regulation," said Cardoso. "Let's start by treating drug addiction as a health issue -- rather than as a crime -- and by reducing drug demand through proven educational initiatives. But let's also allow and encourage countries to carefully test models of responsible legal regulation as a means to undermine the power of organized crime, which thrives on illicit drug trafficking."

"Health-based approaches to drug policy routinely prove much less expensive and more effective than criminalization and incarceration," said former Mexican President Zedillo. "Decriminalization of drug consumption is certainly crucial but not sufficient. Significant legal and institutional reforms, both at the national and international levels, are needed to allow governments and societies to put in place policies to regulate the supply of drugs with rigorous medical criteria, if the engines of organized crime profiting from drug traffic are to be truly dismantled."

The Commission's report today is only the latest evidence of growing global momentum for fundamental drug policy reforms. After the Commission's 2011 report, sitting Latin American heads of state, including Presidents Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia, Otto Perez Molina in Guatemala, and José Mujica in Uruguay, as well as then-President Felipe Calderón in Mexico, for the first time made drug reform a major topic at the Summit of the Americas in April 2012 in Cartagena, Colombia.

That was followed 13 months later by an Organization of American States report, commissioned by the heads of state of the region, calling for consideration of drug legalization along with other possible scenarios as a potential policy alternative. And late last year, Uruguay broke new ground, becoming the first country in the world to legalize and regulate marijuana commerce.

All of this has created a big push for a new look at global drug prohibition during the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs set for 2016. The last UNGASS, in 1998, was dominated by rhetorical calls for a "drug-free world" and ended with unrealistic goals of suppressing illicit drug production (which, of course, have not been met), but the Commission and the global political leaders whose voices it echoes are working to use the next UNGASS to advance a frankly and radically reformist alternative.

Celebrity Commission member Richard Branson (Wikimedia/David Shankbone)
"We can't go on pretending the war on drugs is working," said Richard Branson. "We need our leaders to look at alternative, fact-based approaches. Much can be learned from successes and failures in regulating alcohol, tobacco or pharmaceutical drugs. The risks associated with drug use increase, sometimes dramatically, when they are produced, sold and consumed in an unregulated criminal environment. The most effective way to advance the goals of public health and safety is to get drugs under control through responsible legal regulation."

American drug reformers liked what they were hearing.

"When the Commission released its initial report just three years ago, few expected its recommendations to be embraced anytime soon by current presidents," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "But that's exactly what happened, with Colombian President Santos and Guatemala President Perez-Molina speaking out boldly, former Mexican President Calderon calling on the United Nations to reassess the prohibitionist approach to drugs, and Uruguayan President Mujica approving the first national law to legally regulate cannabis. Meanwhile, one Commission member, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, has opened up the drug policy debate in West Africa, recruiting some of the region's most distinguished figures," he noted.

"The import of the Commission's report lies in both the distinction of its members and the boldness of their recommendations," Nadelmann continued. "The former presidents and other Commission members pull no punches in insisting that national and global drug control policies reject the failed prohibitionist policies of the 20th century in favor of new policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. There's no question now that the genie of reform has escaped the prohibitionist bottle. I'm grateful to the Commission for the pivotal role it has played in taking drug policy reform from the fringes of international politics to the mainstream."

"With polling having shown consistent majority voter support for legalizing marijuana in the US for several years now, it's been clear that this is a mainstream issue in this country," said Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority. "Now this group of world leaders has not only put marijuana legalization on the table for serious consideration on the global stage, but has gone even further by suggesting that ending the prohibition of other drugs should be considered as a way to better protect public health and safety. The hope now is that these forward-thinking recommendations by so many respected former heads of state will encourage current officials to modernize their nations' policies."

The Global Commission on Drugs is showing the path forward to more enlightened drug policies. Now it's up to citizens to push for reform from the bottom up, and it's up to national and international leaders to start making those changes at the national and international level.

New York, NY
United States

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