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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM -- May 20, 2014

The organized opposition in Alaska gets a donation, medical marijuana is finally moving in the New York Senate, the Fair Sentencing Act picks up another sponsor, there's more violence in Mexico, and more meth in Asia, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Alaska Group Opposed to Legalization Initiative Gets First Big Contribution. The organized opposition to Alaska's marijuana legalization initiative has received its first large cash donation. The group Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, Vote No on 2 received $25,000 from the Chenaga Corporation, an Alaska Native company. No word on how the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska is doing on fundraising, but it is backed by the Marijuana Policy Project.

Wyoming Legislator Campaigns for Reelection on Marijuana Legalization Platform. Rep. James Byrd (D-Laramie) is seeking a fourth term in the state legislature, and he said in an interview Monday that marijuana legalization, jobs, and education would be some of his leading priorities if he is reelected. This year, Byrd authored a bill to decriminalize possession in the Cowboy State. It was defeated, but he is carrying on unabashed.

Medical Marijuana

New York Medical Marijuana Bill Finally Moving in Senate; Wins Committee Vote. The state Senate Health Committee today narrowly approved Senate Bill 4406, the Compassionate Care Act. Similar bills have been approved by the Assembly in recent years, but this marks the first time the Senate has taken up the issue. If allowed to the Senate floor for a vote, the bill is expected to pass.

Sentencing

Federal Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up Another Sponsor. And then there were 31; 19 Democrats and 12 Republicans. The latest cosponsor is Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA). The bill, House Resolution 3382, would reduce some mandatory minimum drug sentences, allow judges to sentence below the mandatory minimum in some circumstances, and allow people sentenced under old crack cocaine laws to be resentenced. The bill has been stalled in a House Judiciary Committee subcommittee since January.

Law Enforcement

NSA, DEA "Blurring the Lines" Between War on Drugs and War on Terror. The latest article based on leaked documents from Edward Snowden, published by Glenn Greenwald and crew, shows how the NSA and the DEA have merged the war on drugs and the war on terror since the 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington, DC. The story details how the NSA recorded "virtually every" cell phone call in the Bahamas using a DEA "backdoor" to get into the Bahamian phone networks. The authors worry that if the NSA is using intelligence gained under the guise of fighting the war on drugs for counter-terrorism or other spying purposes, it could endanger the cooperation of host countries.

International

Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) to Hold Briefing on Drug Policy in Latin America. There will be a briefing on the current state of drug policy in Latin America and potential implications for US policy hosted by Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) at the Congressional Meeting Room South at 10:00am, Thursday, May 29. The panelists are Ambassador Paul Simons, executive director of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission of the OAS; John Walsh, senior associate for drug policy and the Andes at the Washington Office on Latin America; and Vanda Felbab-Brown, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. For more information, contact Caitie Whelan in Rep. Farr's office.

More Drug War Violence in Mexico's Northeast. Another seven bodies have been discovered in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, which is undergoing a renewed surge of violence as competing cartels fight with each other and the security services. The four men and three women were found Sunday night in an abandoned car in the port city of Tampico. More than a hundred people have been killed in the drug wars in Tamaulipas in the past month, and the federal government announced last week that it is stepping up operations in the state.

More Meth, More New Synthetics as Asia Becomes World's Largest Stimulant Market, UN Report Says. Asia is the world's largest market for stimulants, with methamphetamine seizures there tripling to at least 36 tons over the past five years, according to a new report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. The report, the Global Synthetic Drugs Assessment 2014, also found that new synthetic drugs -- or New Psychoactive Substances (NSPs) in UN-speak -- are expanding rapidly as well, and are often found in substances marketed as traditional amphetamines or Amphetamine Type Substances (ATSs).

(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.)

London School of Economics Report Calls for New Approaches to Drug Policy

A report from the London School of Economics released Monday night outlines the enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage from the war on drugs and calls for new, evidence-based approaches to drug use and the drug trade.

The report, Ending the Drug Wars: Report of the LSE Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy, has chapters authored by leading drug policy experts from around the world and has been 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."

The stark prohibitionist approach to drug control has been a flop even by its own measures, the report found.

"The strategy has failed based on its own terms," it noted. "Evidence shows that drug prices have been declining while purity has been increasing. This has been despite drastic increases in global enforcement spending. Continuing to spend vast resources on punitive enforcement-led policies, generally at the expense of proven public health policies, can no longer be justified."

The report chided the United Nations for its continued adherence to such failed policies and urged it to accept experimentation while emphasizing public health and human rights.

"The United Nations has for too long tried to enforce a repressive, 'one-size-fits-all' approach," the report concluded. "It must now take the lead in advocating a new cooperative international framework based on the fundamental acceptance that different policies will work for different countries and regions. This new global drug strategy should be based on principles of public health, harm reduction, illicit market impact reduction, expanded access to essential medicines, minimization of problematic consumption, rigorously monitored regulatory experimentation and an unwavering commitment to principles of human rights."

"The drug war's failure has been recognized by public health professionals, security experts, human rights authorities and now some of the world's most respected economists," said John Collins, coordinator of LSE IDEAS International Drug Policy Project. "Leaders need to recognize that toeing the line on current drug control strategies comes with extraordinary human and financial costs to their citizens and economies."

"Repressive drug laws cost governments billions of dollars and result in horrible epidemics of infectious diseases and serious human rights abuses," said Dr. Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, the director of the Open Society Global Drug Policy Program, which hosted a launch event for the report at the LSE Monday night. "We know the terrible costs of failed strategies and what can be gained from smarter approaches."

More fuel for the fire as an increasingly broad-based global movement for drug reform takes aim at the UN and its 2016 General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs.

London
United Kingdom

Chronicle AM -- March 28, 2014

Medical marijuana and CBD bills continue moving in state legislatures, Northeastern governors respond to opiates, the Department of Agriculture wants to buy Ukrainian hemp seed, and more. Let's get to it:

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) declares a public health emergency to deal with opiate use. (mass.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Poll Has Legalization Initiative in Narrow Victory. A new Alaska House Majority Caucus poll suggests that the marijuana legalization initiative there should win at the polls in August, but it will be close. The poll had support for the initiative at 52%, with 44% opposed and only 4% undecided. Click on the poll link for cross-tabs and top lines.

New Jersey Governor Christie Rejects Legalization, Raises "Gateway" Specter. During Gov. Chris Christie's (R) "Ask the Governor" radio program Thursday, Christie rejected legalization in response to a listener's question. "Mike, I love you baby, but it ain't happening, not while I'm governor," Christie said to the caller. "I don't believe that legalizing an illegal drug for purposes of governmental profit is something that we should be doing. I believe that this is a gateway drug into other more serious drugs, I think it sends a wrong message to our kids and I don't think it makes anybody a better or more productive person," he said.

Vermont Lawmakers Want Marijuana Tax Revenue Study. Vermont lawmakers were expected to offer an amendment to a tax bill passed by the House Thursday to include a study on the revenue effects of legalizing marijuana. The proposed amendment would require the Joint Fiscal Office to report back to the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee on specific revenue projections. The amendment calls on the Joint Fiscal Office to use the Colorado tax model for purposes of the report.

Medical Marijuana

Study Finds Marijuana Medical Access Not Linked to Crime Increases. A new study from University of Texas-Dallas criminologist Robert Morris finds no link between violent crime and the legalization of medical marijuana. "We're cautious about saying, 'Medical marijuana laws definitely reduce homicide.' That's not what we're saying," said Morris. "The main finding is that we found no increase in crime rates resulting from medical marijuana legalization. In fact, we found some evidence of decreasing rates of some types of violent crime, namely homicide and assault."

Colorado Health Department Wants to Restrict Caregiver, Patient Grows. The state Department of Public Health wants to limit the number of patients caregivers can serve and put a cap on the number of plants patients or caregivers can grow. The agency says it will ask legislators to craft new laws, but is still moving forward with its proposed rule change. Some patient activists are viewing this as a power grab by state regulators.

Maryland Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate approved a full-blown medical marijuana bill Thursday. Senate Bill 923 now goes to the House, where a similar bill has already been passed.

Mississippi House Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The House voted 112-6 Thursday to approve a measure that would allow the limited use of CBD cannabis oil as a medical treatment. House Bill 1231 is not quite done in the House yet, though. It was held over on a motion that could allow for more debate.

Florida Senate Committee Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. A bill that would allow doctors to prescribe "non-euphoric" marijuana strains for seizure or cancer patienta passed a Senate committee Thursday. Senate Bill 1030 passed out of the Criminal Justice Committee and is now headed for the Appropriations Committee. A companion bill is also moving in the House.

Hemp

Ag Secretary Says US Seeking to Buy Ukraine Hemp Seed. US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said Thursday that the US is looking to buy hemp seed from Ukraine in a bid to bolster the East European country's economy. "We are now involved in trying to figure out ways in which we might be able to use the industrial hemp seeds that are created in the Ukraine in the US," Vilsack told reporters. Ukraine is one of the world's largest hemp seed producers, and Vilsack said its hemp seed doesn't contain any THC, "so it probably does not run afoul of any of our drug laws."

Drug Policy

Maine Governor's Anti-Drug Bill Gets Some Balance, But ACLU Still Opposes It. Maine Gov. Paul LePage's (R) law enforcement-heavy bill to deal with drug problems in the state has been amended to cut the number of new drug agents, prosecutors, and judges and increase funding or drug treatment programs. The changes to Legislative Document 1811 came in the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and could generate enough Democratic support to pass them, but the ACLU of Maine still says the measure should be defeated.

Massachusetts Governor Declares Public Health Emergency on Opiates, Calls for All First Responders to Have Overdose Reversal Drug. Gov. Deval Patrick declared a public health emergency Thursday to combat the growing abuse of opiates, directing that all the state's police, firefighters, and other emergency personnel be equipped with a drug that can quickly reverse heroin overdoses. Using his emergency powers, Patrick told the Department of Public Health to make Narcan available immediately to all first responders, as well as more accessible to families and friends of drug abusers. Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, halts overdoses almost instantly. Unfortunately, however, the state will also prohibit the sale of Zohydro, an opioid pain reliever approved last year by the FDA.

International

"Women, Drug Policy, and Incarceration in the Americas" Events in DC, NYC Next Week. The Harm Reduction Coalition, the International Drug Policy Consortium, the Washington Office on Latin America, the Permanent Mission of Uruguay to the UN, and the Inter-American Commission of Women will be discussing women, drug policy, and imprisonment at meetings Monday in Washington, DC, and Thursday at the UN in New York City. Click on the links for details and/or to RSVP.

Canada's Alberta Arbitration Board Rejects Random Drug Testing. The Alberta Arbitration Board sided with union workers against Suncor Energy after the union filed a grievance over the company's random drug testing policies. The board ruled that the company failed to demonstrate "a significant problem or legitimate safety risk" to justify random alcohol testing and that its use of urinalysis to do drug testing "failed to identify current impairment." While the tests did find employees who had recently used drugs, "this did not meet the threshold of a legitimate business interest which would justify the significant intrusion into employees' privacy."

Clashes as Bolivians Protest New Anti-Drug Base in Coca-Growing Region. Coca growers blocked roads and hurled stones at police, who responded with volleys of tear gas, as protestors agitated against a new anti-drug military base being constructed near the Chapare, the country's main coca-growing region. Local leaders said people feared an increased law enforcement presence would lead to violence and abuses. The European Union is financing the base at a cost of $1.3 million.

Crisis Looms for Addicts as Russia Bans Methadone in Crimea

Things are about to get harder for opiate users in Crimea, the former Ukrainian province now annexed by Russia. 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.

Oberleitungsbusbahnhof in Simferopol (user Cmapm via Wikimedia)
Russia does not support efficient programs for preventing HIV and Hepatitis C among its drug using population, and harm reduction measures like needle exchanges and opiate substitution therapy (OST), of which methadone maintenance is a subset, are illegal.

Now, the concrete consequences of Crimea's reincorporation into the ample bosom of Mother Russia are coming home for drug users there. On Wednesday, Russian "drug czar" Viktor Ivanov -- one of 31 allies of Pres. Vladimir Putin sanctioned by the US government this month -- announced that Russia will ban the use of methadone in Crimea. That comes after vows a week before that he would move away from harm reduction practices in general in Crimea.

"Methadone is not a cure," Ivanov claimed. "Practically all methadone supplies in Ukraine were circulating on the secondary market and distributed as a narcotic drug in the absence of proper control. As a result, it spread to the shadow market and traded there at much higher prices. It became a source of criminal incomes," he said.

Whatever Ivanov says, cutting off methadone for an estimated 800 patients will be a disaster, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance warned. And the threat of a broader rejection of harm reduction measures puts an estimated 14,000 Crimean injection drug users at risk.

"When the supply of these medicines is interrupted or stopped, a medical emergency will ensue as hundreds of OST patients go into withdrawal, which will inevitably lead to a drastic increase in both acute illness as well as increases in injecting as people seek to self-medicate," said the alliance's Ukraine director, Andriy Klepikov.

"Any interruption to harm reduction programming is a disaster for health, human rights and the HIV epidemic in the region and we urge the authorities in Crimea to step in and ensure that critical supply chains are not disrupted and lives not put at risk as a result of territorial politicking," Klepikov added.

Ukraine has practiced methadone maintenance (or OST) therapy in Crimea since 2005. Patients in Simferopol, Sevastopol, Yalta, Eupatoria, Feodosia, Kerch and other cities receive daily treatment at local healthcare facilities.

The AIDS alliance is not the only group raising the alarm. The International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) has issued an urgent appeal to UN rapporteurs on the Crimea "calling upon you all to issue a public statement making clear the imminent risk that this population faces of losing access to essential medicines, we are requesting that you raise the issue with the Russian government urging them not to close down the currently running opiate substitution programs; and we are calling upon you to raise the issue with utmost urgency with the Human Rights Council with a view to ensuring continued access to the programs."

When it comes to drug policy and harm reduction, Crimea would seem to be worse off as part of Russia than as part of Ukraine. As the AIDS alliance's Klepikov put it:

"The Russian Federation has extremely repressive drug laws and its punitive approach to people who use drugs means that it now experiences one of the highest rates of new HIV infections in the world. Injecting drug users represent nearly 80% of all HIV cases in the country."

Russia

Chronicle AM -- March 25, 2014

Richard Branson speaks out on California drug policy reforms, a leading anti-drug group gives up the ghost on fighting marijuana legalization, the Canadian government is under attack from a couple of directions, and more. Let's get to it:

Richard Branson speaks out again on drug policy reform (David Shankbone/wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Drugfree.org Gives Up on Anti-Marijuana Ad Campaign. The people who brought you "this is your brain on drugs" and similar anti-drug advertising campaigns have given up on fighting marijuana legalization. Formerly known as the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, the group and its CEO, Steve Pasierb, say they have rejected a request to launch a campaign against marijuana legalization because legalization "is happening in America." Here is the interview in Advertising Age where Pasierb speaks out.

Colorado Supreme Court Says Lawyers Can Work With Marijuana Businesses. The Colorado Supreme Court approved a rule change Monday that will eliminate the threat of ethics sanctions against attorneys who work with marijuana businesses. Lawyers "may assist a client in conduct that the lawyer reasonably believes is permitted by these constitutional provisions and the statutes, regulations, orders, and other state and local provisions implementing them," Chief Justice Nancy Rice wrote in the updated rule.

Delaware Poll Has Majority for Legalization, Two-Thirds for Decriminalization. A Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project finds that a narrow majority (51%) support legalizing marijuana, while an overwhelming majority (68%) support decriminalization of the possession of small amounts.

Illinois Decriminalization Bill Has Hearing Today. A bill to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana gets a hearing today in the House Restorative Justice Committee. The measure, House Bill 5708, was introduced by Rep. Kelley Cassidy (D-Chicago).

Medical Marijuana

Florida CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. A bill to legalize a special strain of low-dose medical marijuana passed through the Senate Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Monday. Senate Bill 1030, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach), and Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) would only allow patients to use extracts containing at least 15% CBD and less than 0.5% THC. The House companion bill, House Bill 843, differs in several ways. The two measures would have to be reconciled if both pass their respective chambers.

Illinois Bill to Add Seizure Disorders Gets Hearing Today. A bill that would add seizure disorders to the list of diseases and conditions for which medical marijuana is approved gets a hearing today in the Senate Public Health Committee. Filed by Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), Senate Bill 2636 will be supported in committee by testimony from Kurt Florian, president of the Epilepsy Foundation of Chicago, as well as a family practitioner and parents of two children suffering from seizure disorders.

Drug Policy

Richard Branson Op-Ed Urges Support for California Drug Reforms. Virgin Airlines head and Global Drug Policy Commission member Richard Branson has penned an op-ed calling for support of an initiative campaign to decriminalize drug possession in California. Click on the title link to read the op-ed. Branson is also appearing this afternoon at an event in San Francisco, where Sundog Pictures will hold a special screening of its drug war documentary "Breaking the Taboo." That's at 5:30 pm at the New People Cinema on Post Street.

Law Enforcement

Pennsylvania Man Sues Philly Narcs for 13 Years of False Imprisonment. Philadelphia resident Kareem Torain has filed a lawsuit against a trio of current and former Philadephia narcotics officers, in which he claims they falsified evidence that led to him being convicted on drug charges and spending 13 years in prison. In addition to the individual narc, the lawsuit also targets the city of Philadelphia for "systemic deficiencies and deliberate indifference" that "have caused police officers, including defendant police Officers Monaghan and Reynolds, and former police Officer Walker in this case, to believe that they can violate the rights of citizens, with impunity, including the use of fraud and falsehood, without fear that their actions will be investigated." In recent years scores of drug cases have been dismissed by Philadelphia courts, and several lawsuits have been filed, claiming that narcotics officers routinely planted evidence and lied in court to secure convictions.

International

Russian Drug Czar Calls for New Plan to Combat Afghan Drug Threat. Viktor Ivanov, head of the Russian anti-drug agency, has called for the UN Security Council to address "planet scale" drug production in Afghanistan and for interested countries to create a global alliance for alternative development in Afghanistan through "forced industrialization." Ivanov is one of the Russian political leaders sanctioned as a result of the Crimea crisis, and last week, he suggested that the US was using the crisis to deliberately destroy the international anti-drug cooperation in order to hide its responsibility for the drug crisis in Afghanistan.

Canada Blocked Support for Harm Reduction at UN CND Meeting, Observers Say. Canadian diplomats in Vienna for the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting blocked harm reduction health approaches abroad that are widely practiced at home, said Canadian Drug Policy Coalition director Donald MacPherson, who attended the conference. "Historically, Canada had been a leader in this area," MacPherson noted. "A substantial amount of the scientific research validating harm reduction measures was done right here in Vancouver, and we've implemented quite robust harm reduction policies at the provincial level across Canada. It's hypocritical for us to oppose adoption of these strategies internationally, especially since this is a matter of life and death in many countries with high levels of injection drug use and HIV." Similarly, Richard Elliot, executive director of the Toronto-based Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, described the position adopted by Canada in Vienna as "profoundly stupid."

Canada Court Hearing Request for Injunction to Allow Prescription Heroin This Week. The Vancouver-based Pivot Legal Society and Providence Health Care will be in court this week to argue that participants in the SALOME study (The Study to Assess Long-term Opioid Maintenance Effectiveness) should receive an exemption from recent amendments to federal drug laws that prohibit doctors from prescribing heroin to patients for whom other treatment options have been ineffective. Pivot is representing five patients whose condition improved while in the SALOME study, operated by Providence Health, and who can no longer access the treatment now that their time in the study is over. Click on the link for more details.

Mexican Lawmakers Hit DC, NYC to Discuss Their Marijuana Reform Proposals. Legislators from the Mexican Congress and the Mexico City Assembly will be in Washington, DC, and New York City to discuss the bills they introduced to decriminalize the consumption and purchase of marijuana for personal use in Mexico City and to legalize medical marijuana countrywide. Mexico City Senator Mario Delgado and Mexico City Assembly member Vidal Llerenas, both from the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), will be in DC on March 24 and 25 and in NY on March 26 to discuss the aims of the marijuana reform proposals in Mexico. Click on the link for more details.

Chronicle AM -- March 19, 2014

Fewer people are getting arrested for marijuana possession in Washington state after legalization -- imagine that! -- Kansas legislators want to drug test teachers, a New Jersey heroin and opiates panel has recommendations, Russell Brand goes to Vienna, and more. Let's get to it:

Russell Brand speaks out for drug decriminalization at the CND in Vienna. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Says Legalize It. Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Carr says he favors legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana use and would spend the proceeds on helping the homeless and others in need. Carr is one of six Republicans running in the primary to determine who takes on incumbent Democrat John Kitzhaber. He's not the front-runner; that distinction goes to state Rep. Dennis Richardson.

Massachusetts Poll Has Near Majority for Legalization.A new WBUR TV poll shows increased support for marijuana legalization, with 48% in favor and 41% opposed. A Boston Herald/Suffolk University poll showed majority support for the first time. These two polls suggest that attitudes toward legalization in the Bay State have moved in a positive direction in the past year.

Washington State ACLU Reports Big Drop in Pot Arrests. Misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests plummeted last year, the ACLU of Washington reported today. There were just 120 such arrests last year after legalization went into effect, compared to 5,531 the year before. But black people are still getting arrested for pot possession more often. They're getting popped at a rate three times that of whites, the ACLU said.

National Cannabis Industry Association to Host Marijuana Business Summit. The NCIA will hold its first national conference, the Cannabis Business Summit, June 24-25 in Denver. Click on the links for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. A bill that would study the impact of using a marijuana derivative to treat seizures is one step closer to becoming state law. Senate Bill 174 passed the House Judiciary Committee after it was amended in the Senate last week.

Drug Testing

Kansas School Teacher Drug Testing Bill Passes Senate. A bill that requires drug testing of school employees and affirms the firing of educators convicted of DUI, drug crimes, and other offenses passed the state Senate Tuesday. Senate Bill 335 was approved after Senate Democrats successfully offered an amendment that would subject members of the House and Senate to treatment requirements and financial sanctions mirroring those in state law for the unemployed or those on cash aid. The welfare drug testing law passed last year also included elected representatives, but contained no provisions for sanctioning them or requiring they seek help. The bill now goes to the House.

Heroin

Kentucky Omnibus Heroin Bill Stuck in House. A bill that would both enact harm reduction measures and crack down on heroin-selling offenses is stuck in the House Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 5 would let drug dealers be charged with murder if the sale of Schedule I drugs results in death and increases penalties for high-volume heroin dealers. It also seeks increased Medicare funds for drug treatment, access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, and a 911 Good Samaritan provision. The Senate passed the bill in January.

New Jersey Heroin Task Force Calls for Broad Reforms. A governor's task force on heroin and opiate use called for a wide array of reforms, saying it is "time to confront our demons." According to The Newark Star-Ledger, which obtained an advance copy, the panel's report calls for tighter prescription pill monitoring laws, changes in the state's insurance system to make treatment more available, and expanded use of drug treatment recovery communities.

Sentencing

California Bill Would Equalize Crack and Powder Cocaine Sentences. A bill filed by state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Culver City) would cut prison sentences for people convicted of selling crack to bring them in line with sentences for people convicted of selling powder cocaine. Senate Bill 1010 was introduced last month, but amended Monday. It is before the Senate Rules Committee.

International

In Vienna, Russell Brand Joins "Support, Don't Punish" Campaign. British actor and comedian Russell Brand spoke at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna today and publicly joined forces with the Support, Don't Punish campaign to decriminalize drug possession and end the imprisonment and punishment of people who use drugs.

Senior Mexican Anti-Drug Official Resigns. Manuel Mondragón y Kalb, Mexico's national security commissioner and one of the most senior officials in charge of the country's counternarcotics fight, has resigned "for personal reasons." The National Security Commission (CNS), which falls under the Interior Ministry, was created by President Enrique Peña Nieto in January 2013 to replace the Secretariat of Public Security. The CNS, which is in charge of the Federal Police, is behind schedule in its task to create a National Gendarmerie to bolster the country's counter-narcotics fight, which is one of Peña Nieto's campaign promises.

(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.)

Growing Demands for UN Drug Policy Reform [FEATURE]

The United Nations' Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) has wrapped up the High-Level Segment portion of its annual meeting in Vienna. The session 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.

An indication of relaxation came when a key working group of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced the release of groundbreaking recommendations discouraging criminal sanctions for drug use. The Scientific Consultation Working Group on Drug Policy, Health and Human Rights of the UNODC -- which includes Nora Volkow, head of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) -- released the recommendations as the session got underway. The working group recommendations say 'criminal sanctions are not beneficial' in addressing the spectrum of drug use and misuse.

Getting down to business at the CND in Vienna (unodc.org)
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.

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.

It's not just change in the halls of the UN drug bureaucracies, but changes on the ground that are helping to drive the debate. Uruguay and two US state, Colorado and Washington, have legalized marijuana in apparent contravention of the global drug treaties, and Latin American countries in particular have for several years now expressed growing dismay at the drug war status quo.

Uruguay's decision to legalize marijuana commerce was "not a solution to dealing with the world's drug problem," UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) head Yuri Fedotov said just days ago, and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) called the Uruguayan government "pirates" for going up against the UN drug conventions. But the UN drug bureaucrats were singing a slightly softer tune last week in Vienna.

Taking in the discussions in Vienna (idpc.net)
"My impression from the debates so far is that the prevailing mood is to say no to dismantling the provisions of the conventions, but yes to returning to the original spirit of the conventions: protection of health, welfare, and safety of people," Fedotov said in anodyne remarks at the release of the ministerial statement.

"The provisions of the conventions indeed are flexible, human rights based, and founded on the protection of health. I would like particularly to stress the need of strengthening the public health in a comprehensive, balanced, scientific evidence-based approach, that is very important, and fully consistent with human rights standards," Fedotov continued. "There is also a growing need for every country to move away from compulsory treatments and punitive measures and towards embracing these approaches, including protection against HIV/AIDS, as envisaged by the Conventions."

The ministerial statement itself, a compromise document, for the most part blandly supported the existing international drug control regime, although it, too, signaled a shift toward a more public health-oriented approach, and it obliquely referenced ongoing dissent by noting "the ongoing discussions in some regions on how to address the world drug problem, in light of the current situation and policies, and emphasize the importance of a broad, transparent, inclusive and scientific evidence-based discussion among Member States, with inputs from other relevant stakeholders, as appropriate, in multilateral settings, on the most effective ways to counter the world drug problem consistent with the three international drug control conventions…"

But behind the smooth language of the official statements, there was real anger and dismay at the toll of more than a half-century of global drug prohibition.

"People have been sacrificed in our actions to tackle the drug problem," Colombian Justice Minister Gomez Mendez told delegates. "We call for more effective ways to achieve the objectives stated in international agreements. Alternatives are needed. Drug policies cannot travel at the speed of a telegraph while drug problems develop at the speed of broadband Internet."

ENCOD's Coffee Sniffer Brigade reenacted prohibitions of yore, to the bemusement of CND security. (encod.org)
"We should not be driven by ideologies and wishful thinking. We unfortunately know today that the idea of a drug-free world based on the belief that, if we eradicate supply, we will reduce demand, is not achievable. We should look to and evaluate alternative regimes appearing in North and South America and in Europe rather than just be silent about it", said the Czech Republic delegate, echoing the calls for drug policy reform made by not only Colombia, but also Guatemala, Ecuador, Mexico and Uruguay.

"Since 1961, due to a rigid and narrow interpretation of the UN drug conventions, there has been one single means to control the use of cannabis -- criminalization has been imposed, "said Diego Canepa, representative of the delegation of Uruguay. "We have don't have a magic recipe, but we are trying to find a way out and snatch the market away from traffickers. We have a responsibility to represent our citizens, and not to take the challenge and act accordingly would be an unforgivable error."

The Mexican delegation said that health policies should be encouraged instead of the criminalization of drug use and that a thorough review of the international drug strategies is required. The delegation of Guatemala highlighted that "the revision of the UN drug conventions is needed and that the Latin American hemispheric debate is ongoing."

"The failure of present drug policies has generated questions from governments, policy-makers, intellectuals and civil society organizations from across the region," said the Ecuadorian delegation. "Many voices are calling for a change in paradigm in the understanding and approach to the drug phenomenon."

Even the US delegation was sounding eerily reformist. Acting Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head Michael Botticelli called for continuing down "the path of criminal justice reform" and cited recent Obama administration moves to minimize mandatory minimum drug sentences.

But the call for reform came most loudly in the person of Eliot Ross, representing the International Network of People Who Use Drugs, who noted that human rights law and drug control law continued to be inconsistent, and called for a comprehensive overhaul of the treaties and amnesty for drug prisoners.

Changing the global drug control system for the better is agonizingly slow work -- it's been 16 years since hundreds of global intellectuals signed an open letter in The New York Times calling on the last UNGASS on Drugs to begin to adopt fundamental reforms. But, under the weight of rising pressure, the creaky machine is starting to move.

"We derive hope from the fact that, contrary to earlier CND meetings, there are now countries openly condemning prohibition as the basic answer to drug problems," said ENCOD (the European NGO Council for Just and Effective Drug Policies). "More than ever, not just governmental but UNODC officials see the writing on the wall. Instead of insisting on the need to create 'a drug free world', they refer to the need to protect people and societies from the damages of drugs and drug trafficking. We continue to urge governments to put these words into action and steadily direct their policy towards legal regulation as the only way to reduce harms and increase public safety. We hope for and expect major change at the 2016 UNODC meetings in New York. Prohibitionary drug laws are the problem. Removing them is the solution."

In a theatrical jab at prohibitions gone by, ENCOD activists reprised the strange saga of the Coffee Sniffer Brigade, a group of disabled soldiers who had to enforce the ban on coffee roasting and brewing that was imposed by the Prussian King Frederick the Great in the second half of the 18th Century. Delegates reacted first with reservation, then with support, the activists reported.

"The remaking of the system is happening before our eyes. For decades governments used the United Nations to push a one-size-fits-all approach," said Joanne Csete, deputy director of the Open Society Global Drug Policy Program. "The dissent we're seeing today is the deconstruction of the international drug war."

"This is the beginning of a serious re-think on drug control," said Ann Fordham, executive director of the International Drug Policy Consortium. "Billions of dollars have been wasted, millions of people have been criminalized, thousands of lives have been lost and the drug cartels carry on getting richer. Given this reality, the charade of a global consensus on drugs is now unacceptable, and some governments have found the courage to speak out."

Chronicle AM -- March 13, 2014

Attorney General Holder endorses federal drug sentencing reductions, CBD medical marijuana bills move in the South, a New Hampshire decriminalization bill advances, Zohydro may get some competition, and the UN is generating plenty of news, and more. Let's get to it:

Attorney General Eric Holder endorses federal drug sentence reductions. (usdoj.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Marylanders Rally for Legalization. Nearly 100 supporters of sweeping changes in Maryland's marijuana laws rallied in Annapolis Thursday before planned legislative hearings on bills to legalize -- or at least decriminalize -- possession of the drug. The House Judiciary Committee is hearing a series of marijuana reform bills this afternoon, including a legalization bill (House Bill 880) from Rep. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore).

Maryland Poll Has Slim Majority for Legalization. As the legislature considers marijuana reform bills, a new Goucher Poll has support for legalization at 50.1%, with 39.4% opposed. The poll also had a whopping 89.6% in favor of medical marijuana.

New Hampshire Decriminalization Bill Passes House. The House approved a decriminalization bill by a veto-proof margin Wednesday. House Bill 1625, sponsored by Rep. Adam Schroadter (R-Newmarket) and a bipartisan group of seven cosponsors including Sen. Jeff Woodburn (D-Dalton), would make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana punishable by a civil fine of up to $100. It would also make cultivation of up to six plants a Class A misdemeanor instead of a felony. Currently, possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000. Now, it's on to the state Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Senate Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate passed a bill allowing doctors to prescribe and patients to use CBD cannabis oil for medical reasons Wednesday. The bill passed with no opposition. Senate Bill 124 now goes to the House.

Georgia Senate Committee Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee unanimously approved House Bill 885, which would allow patients to use CBD-based cannabis oils. It also amended the bill to allow parents to bring the oil into the state without facing penalties. The bill has already passed the House and now awaits a Senate floor vote.

South Carolina Senate Panel Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. A subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Medical Affairs approved a bill allowing people suffering from epilepsy to use CBD cannabis oil Wednesday. Senate Bill 1035 still needs to pass the full committee. Similar legislation is moving in the House.

Hemp

Tennessee Hemp Bill Wins House Committee Vote. A bill that would allow the cultivation of hemp for research purposes passed the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Wednesday. House Bill 2445 now heads for the House Finance Ways and Means Committee.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Food Stamp Drug Testing Bill Heads to Governor. A bill that would require applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to undergo drug testing if there is a suspicion they are using drugs passed the Senate Wednesday and now goes to the desk of Gov. Phil Bryant (R), who has made it a keystone of his legislative agenda. House Bill 49 passed the Senate after debate in which supporters couched the program as an additional benefit that could help somebody struggling with addiction, while opponents said it was unfairly singling out the poor.

ASAM White Paper Calls for Vastly Expanded Drug Testing. The American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has published a white paper by former NIDA director and present day drug testing consultant Robert Dupont calling drug testing "underutilized" and arguing it should be expanded to be include people of all ages in virtually all aspects of daily life. The totalitarian vision is ably critiqued by NORML drug testing expert Paul Armentano (click the title link), as well as by progressive talk radio host Thom Hartman, who countered Dupont with an op-ed entitled "It's Time to End All Drug Testing." Both Armentano's and Hartman's critiques are worth the read.

Prescription Opioids

Oxycontin Maker Offers Alternative to Zohydro. Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxycontin, says it has completed testing of an abuse-resistant version of the painkiller hydrocodone, a surprise development that could derail sales of the recently launched Zohydro, a similar medication that has been criticized for lacking such safeguards. Purdue Pharma says it plans to submit its extended-release hydrocodone drug to the Food and Drug Administration later this year. Shares of rival Zogenix Inc. plunged more than 20% after the announcement, which appears to jeopardize sales of the company's just-launched drug Zohydro. Zogenix began shipping Zohydro to pharmacies last week.

Sentencing

Attorney General Holder Endorses Proposal to Cut Federal Sentences. US Attorney General Eric Holder today endorsed a proposal from the US Sentencing Commission to reduce the sentences of people convicted of federal drug trafficking offenses by about a year, from an average of 62 to months to an average of 51 months. "This overreliance on incarceration is not just financially unsustainable," Holder said. "It comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate."

International

Listen to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs Sessions. You can do it by clicking on the UNODC's webcast page at the link above. Also, Oregon activist Doug McVay has uploaded audio of the second part of today's plenary session here. There will be more updates on McVay's weekly Drug War Facts podcast.

UNODC Panel Says Criminalizing Drug Use "Not Beneficial". Today, a key working group of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced the release of groundbreaking recommendations discouraging criminal sanctions for drug use. The Scientific Consultation Working Group on Drug Policy, Health and Human Rights of the UNODC -- which includes Nora Volkow, head of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) -- is releasing the recommendations at the High-Level Segment of the 57th UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. The working group recommendations say "criminal sanctions are not beneficial" in addressing the spectrum of drug use and misuse.

UNODC Sees "Serious Setbacks" in Fight Against Drugs. Addressing the opening session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNOC) head Yury Fedotov said the global fight against drugs had suffered "serious setbacks," including record opium crops in Afghanistan, violence linked to drug trafficking in Central America, and weak West African states succumbing to the blandishments of traffickers. While he said legalization was no solution, he did add that: "A public health response to the drug use problem should consider alternatives to penalization and incarceration of people with use disorders."

Caricom Creates Commission to Study Marijuana Legalization. The leaders of the Caricom Caribbean trade bloc announced today that they are creating a commission to study the impact of legalizing marijuana. The move came at the end of a two-day summit where members discussed a preliminary report on decriminalization. The commission is charged with presenting its report in early July for a Caricom summit in Antigua.

Iran Executed More Than 300 People for Drugs Last Year, Report Says. A report from the nonprofit group International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran released Wednesday says Iran executed 331 people on drug-related charges last year. The drug executions accounted for almost half of all executions in the Islamic Republic, the report found. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime sponsors anti-drug programs in Iran, and is under increasing pressure from European donor countries to put in place measures to stop its support from contributing to the death penalty.

Dire Prospects for Afghanistan Drug War, Analysis Finds. A new analysis from Alex Pollard-Lipkis of Foreign Policy in Focus finds that "if costly drug war strategies in Afghanistan have been unsuccessful even with a strong US military presence, they won't stand a chance after the US withdraws." The analysis critiques contemporary US approaches and peeks into the post-US future. Click on the title link to read the whole thing.

Say What? UNODC Panel Says Criminalizing Drug Use "Not Beneficial"

Yep, you read that right. The global anti-drug bureaucracy doesn't think it's a good idea to criminalize drug use.

As the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) notes:

Today, a key working group of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced the release of groundbreaking recommendations discouraging criminal sanctions for drug use. The Scientific Consultation Working Group on Drug Policy, Health and Human Rights of the UNODC – which includes Nora Volkow, head of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – is releasing the recommendations at the High-Level Segment of the 57th UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. The working group recommendations say “criminal sanctions are not beneficial” in addressing the spectrum of drug use and misuse.

DPA was happy to hear it:

"There is simply no good basis in science, health or ethics for bringing someone into the criminal justice system solely for drug possession," said DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann. "Hopefully the UN’s recommendations will help accelerate the global trend toward ending the criminalization of drug use and possession.  That certainly would make an enormous difference in the United States."

And so are we. While decriminalizing drug use does not remove all the harms associated with drug prohibition (especially since it would still leave a huge black market in drug production and sales), it would be a huge step toward recognizing the humanity of drug users. In the US alone, it would also save about 1.5 million each year from being saddled with arrest records.

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