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The Top 10 International Drug Policy Stories of 2013 [FEATURE]

What a year in drug reform! 2013 saw a historic breakthrough on the international front, as well as evidence that powerful currents are shifting inexorably away from the prohibitionist consensus of the last half-century. There were also new, innovative approaches to regulating drugs and new, innovative approaches to buying and selling them illegally.

But on the other hand, there were also continuities. Major drug producing regions kept producing drugs, major drug-related conflicts continued, and the global drug war continues to grind on. A bullet-point Top 10 list can't hope to offer a comprehensive review of the year on drugs internationally, but it can illuminate some key events and important trends. With apologies in advance for all those important stories that didn't make the cut, here is Drug War Chronicle top ten global drug policy-related stories of 2013:

#1 Uruguay Legalizes Marijuana

No question about it; this has to be the top international drug policy story of the year. After a year and a half of laying the groundwork, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica and his ruling Broad Front pushed marijuana legalization through the legislature and Mujica signed the bill into law just before Christmas. Uruguay now becomes the first signatory to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Drugs to break decisively with the treaty and the global prohibition regime on marijuana policy. Uruguay's example is already causing reverberations in Argentina and Chile, and Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina called it "an important step" that could serve as "a pilot plan" in the regional war against drug trafficking. And that's even before the new law goes into effect in a few weeks.

#2 The Global Prohibition Regime is Under Increasing Attack

In May, the Organization of American States released a report that included an analysis of alternatives to prohibition, including regulation and legalization regimes. The report was an outgrowth of Latin American criticism of the drug war at the Cartagena Summit in 2012. In September, Latin Americans took the call for drug reform to the UN General Assembly, and in a consensus statement agreed to by Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, and others, called on the UN "to reevaluate internationally agreed-upon policies in search of more effective responses to drug trafficking, from a perspective of health, a framework of respect for human rights, and a perspective of harm reduction." And in December, a leaked draft document revealed even broader divisions among member states, with several European nations offering serious criticism of the drug prohibition status quo.

#3 Bolivia Reenters UN Drug Treaty, But Rejects Coca Chewing Ban

The UN 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the legal backbone of global drug prohibition, took a hit in January, when Bolivia successfully rejoined the convention, but only with the reservation that it would ignore the treaty's ban on coca leaf chewing despite the objections of the US and the International Narcotics Control Board. Bolivia had withdrawn from the treaty the year before to protest the inclusion of the ban on coca chewing, a traditional indigenous practice that had gone on for hundreds, if not thousands, of years before Eurocentric treaty negotiators managed to criminalize it internationally under the Single Convention.

Coca Museum, La Paz (Phil Smith, Drug War Chronicle, 2007)
#4 New Zealand Moves to Regulate -- Not Prohibit -- New Synthetic Drugs

In July, New Zealand took a historic step away from drug prohibition and toward regulation when a new law went into effect to regulate and control new synthetic drugs. The law had breezed through Parliament on a 119-1 vote. Synthetic drug manufacturers who meet safety standards are now licensed and regulated, and their products are available legally at retail outlets. The law is designed to avoid the dangers of driving the trade underground and to end the perpetual game of prohibitionist catch-up played with synthetic drug makers, who, when one drug is criminalized, simply tweak a molecule or two to create a new one.

#5 The Dark Net Emerges as a Drug Marketplace

After quietly lurking in the dark corners of the Internet, the online illicit drug (and other goodies) marketplace Silk Road hit the big time in a big, bad way in October, when its operator, Ross William Ulbrict (AKA the Dread Pirate Roberts) was arrested by the FBI on drug trafficking, money laundering, and computer hacking charges. Silk Road and other "dark net" web sites require an anonymized browser (Tor) that was supposed to keep operators and users safe from prying government eyes, although the Ulbrict and related busts suggest that isn't entirely the case. Other sites, including Sheep Marketplace and Black Market reloaded, sprung up to replace it, but they have had their own problems. In November, Silk Road announced it was back, in Version 2.0. Meanwhile, the saga of the original Silk Road continued at year's end, with Ulbricht suing the federal government for the return of $30 million worth of bitcoins he argues were improperly seized. The battle between governments and Internet black marketers is doubtlessly continuing, even if most of us don't know about it until after the fact.

#6 Mexico: New President, Same Old Drug War

The wave of prohibition-related violence plaguing Mexico didn't garner the media attention last year that it did in 2012, a presidential election year in both the US and Mexico, but it continued nonetheless under incoming Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office in December 2012. According to Milenio's annual survey of drug war deaths, there were more than 10,000 killed last year. That is down from over 12,000 the year before, but still unconscionably high. Pena Nieto came into office vowing to reform the government's approach, but so far the changes have been mainly rhetorical, with the government shifting emphasis from going after top capos to increasing public safety and security. And the top leaders of the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico's most powerful, remain apparently untouchable.

Afghan anti-drug art (Phil Smith, Drug War Chronicle, 2005)
#7 Afghan Opium Production Hits All-Time High

Thirteen years after the Taliban virtually eliminated opium production in a bid to win foreign favor and US funding, and 12 years after the US invaded Afghanistan to drive the Taliban from power, Afghan opium production was at its highest level ever, about 5,500 metric tons, accounting for around 90% of global illicit production. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's 2013 Afghanistan Opium Survey, opium production increased a whopping 49% over 2012, while the area under cultivation increased 36%. The previous high was in 2007. US anti-drug policies have been consistently relegated behind US counter-insurgency imperatives during the US and NATO occupation of the country, leaving Afghanistan with little likelihood of significant changes after the bulk of Western forces are scheduled to leave at the end of this year.

#8 Peru Overtakes Colombia to Regain Title as World's Largest Coca Producer

Twenty years ago, Peru produced about 60% of the world's coca crop, from which cocaine is derived. But crop disease and aggressive anti-trafficking efforts in Peru hurt output there even as cultivation blossomed in Colombia, which took first place honors by the turn of the century. But this year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that Peru was once again back on top. According to the UNODC, Peru had 151,000 acres under cultivation, compared to 125,000 for Colombia. The return to first place comes even as the government of President Ollanta Humala steps up eradication and enforcement efforts and suggests that 2014 could be a conflictive year in the coca valleys of Peru.

#9 Iran Continues to Execute Hundreds of Drug Offenders Each Year

Sharing a 1,300 mile long border with Afghanistan and its booming opium trade, Iran suffers one of the world's highest opiate addiction rates and battles mightily to suppress the cross-border drug trade. One of the grisliest weapons in the mullahs' arsenal is the hangman's noose. In recent years, the Iranians have executed hundreds of drug traffickers each year, and last year was no exception. Final figures are not available, but Iran began the year by executing 21 drug offenders in January alone and ended the year with more than 30 executions in December. It's not clear how many of those were drug offenders because reports from Iran are often sketchy, but it appears safe to say that 2013 was another year where Iran hanged hundreds of drug offenders.

#10 Colombian Peace Negotiations Progress

Forty years ago this year, the leftist guerrillas of the FARC rose up in armed struggle against the Colombian state. Based in the country's rural peasantry, the FARC generated enough wealth from the coca and cocaine trades to finance its insurgency, fighting the Colombian military, backed with US assistance, to a sweaty stalemate. Now, however, weakened by years of offensives by the Colombian military and convinced that the government of President Santos is willing to negotiate in good faith, the FARC has been engaged in a so-far months-long series of talks with government negotiators in Havana. Based as it is in the peasantry, one of the FARC's key concerns is agricultural reform; another is dealing with the coca/cocaine economy. The FARC is calling on the government to initiate alternative development and crop substitution programs, and wants to be involved, and in December, the FARC called for the decriminalization of drug use and coca cultivation. It's too early to tell if the negotiations will lead to an end to the world's longest insurgency, but the progress so far is a positive sign.

Merry Christmas! Uruguay President Signs Marijuana Law

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has signed into law legislation making Uruguay the first country to create a legal, state-regulated marijuana industry. Mujica quietly signed the bill Monday night, the Associated Press reported.

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica as Santa (photo altered by Photomica -- Mujica wasn't really dressed like that)
Presidential secretary Diego Canepa confirmed the signing Tuesday.The signing was the last formal step in a process that began a year and a half ago, when Mujica's government first bruited the idea of legalization as a means of combating crime related to the black market.

Government officials now have 120 days to craft regulations for the marijuana market. Those regulations will deal with everything from growing to selling it in a network of pharmacies, as well as establishing rules around collective grows. The world's first fully legal, government-regulated marijuana marketplace should be up and running by mid-year next year.

But in the meantime, people can now begin growing their own marijuana at home -- up to six plants per family -- and keep an annual harvest of up to 480 grams (about one pound and one ounce).

Uruguay's neighbors are already beginning to take note. The governments of Argentina and Chile have already signaled that they will be taking new looks at marijuana policy in the wake of the Uruguayan move.

Montevideo
Uruguay

Texas Deputy Killed in Dawn No-Knock Drug Raid

A Burleson County, Texas, sheriff's deputy leading a dawn, no-knock drug raid was shot and killed by the homeowner last Thursday. Sgt. Adam Sowders becomes the 40th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Deputy Adam Sowders was killed executing a no-knock drug raid over some marijuana plants. (http://www.co.burleson.tx.us)
Although Sowders was killed early last Thursday morning, we delayed reporting the story because the sheriff's department refused for several days to release search warrant information that would have verified it was indeed a drug-related search warrant.

According to the Bryan-College Station Eagle, Sowders had obtained a search warrant for the residence after obtaining information that the homeowner was growing marijuana and possibly had stolen guns. The warrant was a "no-knock" warrant, meaning police could forcibly enter the residence without giving residents a chance to respond.

Sowders, the first officer through the door, was shot and killed by homeowner Henry Goedrich Magee, 28, who has now been charged with capital murder. But Magee's attorney, famed Houston defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin, said Magee and his pregnant girlfriend were sleeping in the home when they heard "explosives" going off and loud pounding at the door. Moments later, the door burst open and a person Magee couldn't identify entered the residence. Magee grabbed a rifle leaning against his bedroom door frame and shot Sowders. According to DeGuerin, Magee shot him because he "believed the man rushing in was an intruder and he needed to defend himself."

Magee has a felony and a misdemeanor drug conviction, but DeGuerin said all investigators found inside the trailer were a few marijuana plants and four guns that were all legal. DeGuerin pointed at the no-knock warrant as a contributing factor in Sowder's death.

"The danger is that if you're sitting in your home and it's pitch black outside and your door gets busted in without warning, what the hell are you supposed to do?" DeGuerin said.

Somerville, TX
United States

Chronicle AM -- December 20, 2013

A pair of state appeals courts slap down cops who take people's medicine and won't give it back, there are problems with Kansas' drug testing law, Peru is buying shining new toys to prosecute its drug war, and more. Let's get to it:

Hash is medicine, and the cops have to give it back, the Oregon appeals court ruled. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

DPA California Initiative Revised. The Control, Regulate and Tax Marijuana initiative, filed earlier this month by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), has been revised. The new version increases the personal grow limit from four plants to six, makes the 1,000-foot buffer rule around schools optional instead of mandatory, and makes the California Industrial Hemp effectively immediately. Left intact were no changes in criminal penalties, no changes in the state's medical marijuana law, and a 25% tax on adult retail sales. DPA head Ethan Nadelmann said in a conference call yesterday that the group would decide early next year whether to move forward for 2014.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Appeals Court Rules Cops Must Give Back Seized Medical Hash. The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday in Oregon v. James Jonathan Ellis that a medical marijuana patient whose hash was seized during an arrest can get it back. A district court judge had refused to order it returned, finding that hash wasn't covered under the state's medical marijuana law, but the appeals court disagreed, citing the federal Controlled Substances Act's definition of marijuana, which Oregon's law adopted, and which includes "every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant or its resin."

Colorado Appeals Court Rules Cops Must Give Back Seized Medical Marijuana. The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday in Colorado v. Robert Clyde Crouse that a district court judgment ordering Colorado Springs Police to return marijuana seized from leukemia patient Crouse was correct. Colorado Springs authorities had argued that federal drug laws preempted their returning Crouse's medicine, but neither the district court nor the appeals court was buying it.

Wyoming Legislator to Introduce Medical Marijuana Bill. Rep. Sue Wallis (R-Recluse) said this week that she intends to introduce a bill in the legislative session that starts early next year to allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Wallis said the death a year ago of her husband, Rod McQueary, brought the issue of legalizing medical marijuana into sharp focus for her. She said he benefited greatly from medical marijuana from Colorado in his last days.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Legislator Introduces Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) has introduced a bill, House Bill 5213,that would prohibit civil asset forfeiture unless and until a person is convicted of a criminal offense. "Asset forfeiture was sold as a needed tool for law enforcement to attack drug kingpins and gang leaders," Rep. Irwin said. "[But] too often, law enforcement uses the current asset forfeiture law to take tens of millions of dollars every year, mostly from low-level users and small-time dealers. We need to change how asset forfeiture works. By requiring a person be convicted of a crime before their seized property is subject to forfeiture, we will stop the worst abuses and curtail the insidious incentives that lead some law enforcement to short circuit due process and the fundamental principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty."

Drug Testing

Kansas Drug Testing Law Punishes Welfare Recipients, But Lets Lawmakers Skate. The Kansas legislature this year passed a bill, Senate Bill 149, that allows for drug testing of welfare recipients. Amid charges of hypocrisy, solons added language to include drug testing of themselves. But Wednesday, the director of Legislative Administrative Services, who is charged with implementing legislator testing, told legislative leaders that the law does not include any ramifications for a positive drug test and does not explicitly make the results public, so he will be treating them as confidential medical records.

Sentencing

Connecticut Sentencing Commission Recommends Cutting Drug-Free Zones. The Connecticut Sentencing Commission recommended Thursday that lawmakers sharply curtail drug-free zones around schools. The commission said they created racial disparities, unfairly affecting blacks and Latinos, who are more likely to dwell in urban areas, where schools and day cares are more densely packed. The commission recommended scaling the zones back from 1,500 feet to 200 feet. It also recommended limiting drug-free zone charges to those actually intending to infringe on the zones, as opposed to those just passing through.

International

Peru in Half-Billion Dollar Deal to Buy Russian Helicopters for Anti-Drug, Anti-Terrorism Effort. The Peruvian and Russian governments announced a deal Wednesday in which Russia will provide 24 Mi-171 helicopters to the Peruvian armed forces. The Peruvians plan to use them for anti-narcotics and anti-terrorism work in the central mountain areas where coca leaf and cocaine production are widespread.

Belgian Cannabis Social Club Raided. Belgian police acting on orders of the Justice Ministry raided the country's second cannabis club Wednesday (sorry, link in Dutch only). Raiders hit the Mambo Social Club in Hasselt, which follows the country's one-plant-per-person guidelines, seizing plants, records, and computer equipment. No word yet on any criminal charges.

Chronicle AM -- December 19, 2013

Today we have a plethora of pot polls, hope on banking, an important decision by Washington state regulators, and hints of change to come from Canada's Tories, among other news. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

AP Poll Finds Opposition to Legalization Declining. In a poll released Thursday, the Associated Press found opposition to legalizing small amounts of marijuana declining, from 55% in 2010 to 29% now. At the same time, the poll reported support for legalization rising from 33% to 36%. The poll included an option for "neither support nor oppose," with 33% choosing that response. While support is up slightly, according to the poll, a good chunk of those opposed in 2010 have moved to "neither support nor oppose" now.

Wall Street Journal Poll Explores Attitudes on Where Marijuana Should Be Sold. In a poll released Thursday, the Wall Street Journal found that the most popular locations where Americans wanted legal nmarijuana to be sold were pharmacies (69%), followed by pot shops (60%), liquor stores (39%), coffee shops (17%), and supermarkets (13%). The poll also reported that 53% said the sale and possession of small amounts should not be legal, but that 80% said it should be regulated like alcohol. Go figure.

Arizona Pot Polls All Over the Place. Three Arizona polls on marijuana legalization have come up with wildly different results. Two polls from earlier in the year had support for legalization at 56% and 60%, but one just released had support at only 39%. That one is from Susquehanna Polling and Research, which only does polls for candidates who are Republicans and which had Romney beating Obama in Pennsylvania three days before the 2012 election. Obama won the state by five points.

Relief on Banking Could Come Early Next Year. Marijuana businesses could enjoy access to banking and financial services early next year, Jack Finlaw, chief legal counsel to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said Thursday. "What we're being told," Finlaw said during a teleconference, "is probably in the first quarter of 2014 there will be some guidance issued that's comparable to the Cole memo from the Department of Justice that will give, maybe not a green light, but a yellow light to banks to allow them to do business [with marijuana businesses] -- to take deposits, to set up checking accounts, to set up small business loans, to allow these businesses to accept purchases through debit cards or credit cards, to allow what normal businesses are allowed to do." The comment comes after a meeting of the Bank Secrecy Advisory Group in Washington, DC, last week.

St. Louis Legalization Debate Packs 'Em In. A Wednesday night debate on marijuana legalization filled the St. Louis Ethical Society to overflowing as Show Me Cannabis Regulation executive director John Payne took on Missouri Narcotics Officers Association vice president John Grellner for 90 minutes of heated, but polite debate. Show Me Cannabis is working to put a legalization initiative on the ballot next year.

Medical Marijuana

Washington Regulators Recommend Letting Patients Keep Their Personal Grows, But Eliminating Collective Grows. The state Liquor Control Board has reversed itself and is now recommending that patients be able to keep their grows of up to six plants. "Allow home grows and the ability for a qualified patient or designated provider to possess marijuana plants. A qualified patient or designated provider may possess 6 plants, 3 flowering and 3 nonflowering," the board recommended. But it also recommended eliminating collective gardens, the backbone of the state's dispensary system.

New York Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Long Island Public Hearing. A medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Care Act, got a public hearing Wednesday in the chamber of the Nassau County Legislature. It had one earlier this month in Buffalo. The hearings are designed to mount public pressure on the state Senate to get the bill through.

International

UN Security Council Has "Deep Concerns" About West African Drug Trade. In a presidential statement Wednesday after a briefing from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the UN Security Council expressed "deep concern" about a growing drug trade in West Africa and its links to terrorism. Ki-moon told the Security Council $1.2 billion worth of cocaine transits the region each year, where governments are weak, borders are porous, and extremists are on the march.

Canada's Tories to Modernize Marijuana Laws? Canada's governing Conservatives could modify the country's pot laws, Justice Minister Peter McKay hinted Wednesday. Fining marijuana users instead of arresting them is one possibility, he said. "That doesn't mean decriminalizing or legalizing, but it does mean giving police options, for example, to issue fines in addition to any other sanctions, or as a substitute for other sanctions," MacKay told QMI Agency. "These are things that we are willing to look at in the new year, but there's been no decision taken."

Chronicle AM -- December 18, 2013

They may be smoking more pot in Washington state than anyone thought, the Florida medical marijuana signature-gathering campaign is going down to the wire, opium production is up in the Golden Triangle, and aerial eradication is down in Colombia (after planes get blown out of the sky). And more. Let's get to it:

Aerial spraying of coca plants is on hold in Colombia after the FARC shot down two planes this fall. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Reason-Rupe Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization at 49%. In the latest Reason-Rupe poll, 49% of respondents favored legalizing marijuana, with 47% opposed. That puts it on the low side of recent polls on the topic, most of which are now showing majorities for legalization now. The poll found majority support among Democrats (55%) and independents (51%), but not Republicans (37%). Click on the link for more demographic and methodological details.

NYC Lobbyist Forms Marijuana Legalization PAC. The New York City lobbying and consulting firm Sheinkopf LTD, headed by Hank Sheinkopf, has registered a political action committee to advocate for marijuana legalization. The "Legalize Now" PAC was registered this week with the New York State Board of Elections. Both medical marijuana and legalization bills are pending in the legislature.

Washington State Marijuana Consumption Twice Previous Estimate, RAND Says. Marijuana consumption is about twice as much as officials had previously thought, according to a new RAND Corporation study. Consumption had been estimated to be about 85 metric tons in 2013, but the new study says the range is between 135 and 225 metric tons, with 175 metric tons as the median.

Medical Marijuana

Clock is Ticking on Florida Initiative. Time is running short for Florida's United for Care medical marijuana initiative. Organizers have until February 1 to gather 683,189 valid voter signatures, and say they have gathered 700,000 raw signatures, but only 162,866 have been certified as of Tuesday. Organizers are assuming a 25% rejection rate, so they are looking to gather a million signatures by deadline day.

Harm Reduction

Jack Fishman Dead at 83; Helped Create Naloxone.A scientist who played a key role in the development of the opioid overdose-reversal drug naloxone has died. Dr. Jack Fishman died earlier this month at age 83. Naloxone (Narcan) is credited with saving countless people from overdoses of heroin and other opioid drugs. Naloxone has been approved to treat overdoses since 1971, but only some states allow it to be distributed to drug users, community support groups, and local health clinics.

Sentencing

New Brennan Center Proposal Aims to Reduce Mass Incarceration. The Brennan Center, a nonpartisan law and public policy institute based at the NYU School of Law, has unveiled a new policy proposal to shrink prison populations, Reforming Funding to Reduce Mass Incarceration. It was discussed last week at the National Press Club in Washington by a panel including Jim Bueerman of the Police Foundation, Marc Levin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and Nkechi Taifa of the Open Society Foundations.

International

Golden Triangle Opium Production Up, UNODC Says. Opium production in Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle (Laos, Myanmar, Thailand) is up 22% this year over 2012, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said Wednesday in its Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2013 - Lao PDR, Myanmar. Most of the production is in Myanmar, which produced 870 of the regions estimated 893 tons. The Golden Triangle accounted for 18% of global opium production this year, the report said.

Colombia Coca Spraying Halted After FARC Shoots Down Two US Pilots, One Killed. US-funded aerial eradication of coca crops in Colombia has been suspended indefinitely after FARC rebels shot down two spray planes, leaving one US pilot dead. The downings occurred in September and October, but the news that the FARC shot them down and that the program had been suspended didn't come until this week.

Mexican Human Rights Commission Warns Government on Anti-Cartel Vigilantes. Mexico's National Commission on Human Rights warned Tuesday that the rise of vigilante groups to confront drug trafficking organizations undermines the rule of law and could lead to increased violence. The commission blamed the rise of the vigilantes on the government's failure to provide security and accused the government of encouraging the formation of some of the groups. The commission said there were some 7,000 vigilante members in Guerrero alone, with thousands more in Michoacan, where dozens have been killed in clashes among vigilantes, police, soldiers, and drug traffickers.

Chronicle AM -- December 16, 2013

Uruguay's president defends marijuana legalization there and finds an ally, marijuana bills are popping up in some surprising countries, the Justice Department says we have a federal prison crisis, and much more. Let's get to it:

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has some harsh words for his critics and finds some support, too.
Marijuana Policy

Denver City Council Takes Up Decriminalization for 18-to-20-Year-Olds. The Denver city council will today vote on whether to decriminalize marijuana possession for people between the ages of 18 and 20. Councilman Albus Brooks, who is pushing the measure, said it would address an inequity in how offenses are currently prosecuted. Juveniles with small amounts are not arrested, but instead sent to a juvenile assessment center, and adults 21 and over who violate the city's pot laws face only small fines, but people over 17 but younger than 21 face up to a year in jail. Brooks' bill would treat the under-21s like those over 21.

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Debate in St. Louis Wednesday. Show-Me Cannabis Regulation executive director John Payne will debate Jason Grellner of the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association Wednesday night in St. Louis. Click on the link for details. Show-Me Cannabis Regulation is attempting to get a legalization initiative on the 2014 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Public Hearing on New York Medical Marijuana Bill on Long Island Wednesday. The New York Assembly Health Committee will hold hearings on pending medical marijuana legislation Wednesday on Long Island. Click the link for time and place details.

Illinois Launches Medical Marijuana Information Website. Illinois state officials have launched a new website described as the "central location" for information on new medical marijuana laws that go into effect January 1. The public can learn about implementation updates, draft and final administrative rules, application forms, FAQ's, press releases and other materials related to medical cannabis on the site.

Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Dispensary Selection Committee Named. The Department of Public Health last Thursday named the members of a committee that will review 100 applicants for up to 35 dispensaries. Click on the link to see the complete list.

Drug Testing

Minnesota Welfare Drug Testing Law Could Be Costly. A new state law requiring welfare recipients with past felony drug convictions to submit to drug tests "could end up costing taxpayers far more than it saves" while burdening poor families with complex paperwork they could find it difficult to comply with, county officials and advocacy groups said. The law contains costly local mandates and complicated rules that apply only to a tiny fraction of state welfare recipients. Only 0.4% of Minnesota welfare recipients have felony drug convictions, compared to 1.2% among the adult population overall. "I don't think anyone is under the illusion that this is about saving taxpayers money," said Heidi Welsch, director of family support and assistance for Olmsted County. "This is punitive."

Defense Department Now Testing for Synthetic Marijuana. The Defense Department has begun testing for synthetic cannabinoids in its random drug testing program, the head of the program said Friday. "The message we're getting out now is that when you participate in our random urinalysis program, synthetic marijuana products or synthetic marijuana will now be tested along with our other drugs," Army Lt. Col. Tom Martin said. Fake weed had been showing up in 2.5% of drug tests in a random study conducted by the Army, he added.

Sentencing

Justice Department Identifies "Growing Crisis" in Federal Prison System as "Increasingly Critical Threat." An Office of the Inspector General report issued last week, Top Management and Performance Challenges Facing the Department of Justice-2013, identified a number of challenges facing the department, but singled out "the growing crisis in the federal prison system" as an "increasingly critical threat" to the department's ability to fulfill its mission. The crisis is two-fold, the report says: escalating costs of running the prison system and rising security and safety issues due to chronic overcrowding. The department identified sentencing reform initiatives and the Smart on Crime initiative as responses, but noted that their impacts are still unclear.

Cornyn Introduces Federal Prison Reform Bill. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) last week introduced the Federal Prison Reform Act (Senate Bill 1783), which would allow nonviolent, low-risk offenders to complete work, education, skills training, or rehabilitation programs in order to earn up to half of their remaining sentence in home confinement or a halfway house. Cornyn is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the bill has been referred.

International

Uruguay's President Has Harsh Words for INCB Head. Uruguayan President Jose Mujica fought back this weekend after Raymond Yans, head of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) criticized Uruguay's decision to legalize marijuana and said it had failed to consult with the board. "Tell that old man to stop lying," Mujica said in an interview with Uruguay's Canal 4. "Let him come to Uruguay and meet me whenever he wishes… Anybody can meet and talk to me, and whoever says he couldn't meet with me tells lies, blatant lies. Because he sits in a comfortable international platform, he believes he can say whatever nonsense," he added. Mujica noted the INCB's relative quiescence before the legalization of marijuana in two US states and accused him of having double standards. "Does he have different rules: one for Uruguay and other for the world's strong countries?"; he asked.

Guatemalan President Supports Uruguay Marijuana Legalization. At a Central American summit in Panama City Saturday, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina called Uruguay's marijuana legalization "an important step" that could serve as "a pilot plan" in the regional war against drug trafficking. "I think the step Uruguay took is an important one and is a valuable experience," Pérez Molina said. "It could serve as a pilot plan for all of Latin America, and we hope it will be an experience that eventually all countries can adopt," he added.

Israeli Knesset Passes Medical Marijuana Bill. The Knesset Sunday approved an updated version of Israel's medical marijuana law that will centralize marijuana collection and increase the number of doctors allowed to prescribe it. Some medical marijuana growers and patients aren't happy with the centralization, saying that direct contact between patients and growers is important.

Slovenia Parliament Will Discuss Marijuana Legalization Bills. After a pro-legalization citizens' initiative succeeded in forcing parliament to take up the issue, the Slovenian parliament will hold formal hearings on three legalization bills. It's not clear when that will happen.

Sri Lanka Government Will Submit Medical Marijuana Bill. Sri Lanka's minister of indigenous medicine, Salinda Dissanayake, said Saturday he will submit a bill to parliament to allow marijuana to be used as medicine. The bill would amend the country's Ayurveda Act, which deals with traditional medicine. The same ministry had tried in 2008 to get permission to grow marijuana as medicine, but that didn't happen.

Two More Drug War Deaths

A Minnesota man died late last month after being arrested on drug charges, and a Washington state man was shot and killed late last week in a drug bust gone bad. Philip Derks of St. Paul and as yet unnamed Wenatchee, Washington, man become the 37th and 38th persons to die in US domestic drug law operations so far this year.

In the Washington case, according to the Wenatchee World News, citing police sources, members of the Columbia River Drug Task Force had made repeated undercover drug buys from the man, then used uniformed police to pull him over in a traffic stop. The man pulled into a Taco Bell drive-in lane, and a police car pulled in behind him.

"The officer exited the vehicle and contacted the suspect," said Trooper Darren Wright of the State Patrol, which is conducting the investigation into the killing. "A struggle ensued and resulted in the shooting."

Wright said it was not clear if the man had a gun, or if he had fired any shots. He said the unnamed police officer shot more than one shot.

The mid-afternoon shooting at the popular fast-food restaurant resulted in the victim's vehicle rolling forward and striking an occupied pick-up truck in the parking lot. No injuries were reported there.

No word on what drugs the task force was chasing.

{Update: The man has been identified as Robert Harris, 43, of Wenatchee. The coroner reported he died of multiple gunshot wounds. Still no word on whether he had a gun.]

In the Minnesota case, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Philip Derks, 32, had been arrested on November 28 along with the driver of the vehicle in which he was riding after police who stopped them for a traffic violation saw a plastic baggie containing an unknown substance being thrown from the vehicle.

A preliminary field test identified the substance as methamphetamine, and Derks and his companion were taken to the Ramsey County Jail. Within a half hour of their arrival at the jail, Derks' friend alerted jail staff that he needed medical attention. Jail staff wrote that he didn't appear to be under duress, but was fidgety and starting to sweat.

Jail staff moved him to a segregation cell for closer observation after he mentioned Adderall but "refused to answer other questions." Derks grew "even more restless, became very pale, and was sweaty," staff noted before transporting him to a local hospital.

Derks died in the hospital about 18 hours after arriving there. His friend told sheriff's deputies that Derks had swallowed an unknown amount of drugs to hide them from police when they had been pulled over the previous day.

Chronicle AM -- December 13, 2013

It looks like Washington state medical marijuana patients will continue to be able to grow their own, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes wants to welcome pot tourists, the Michigan Senate takes aim at welfare drug users, Indian Maoists are profiting from prohibition, and more. Let's get to it:

India's Maoist Naxalities -- profiting from prohibition. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Seattle City Attorney Wants to Accommodate Pot Tourists. Seattle City Attorney Peter Holmes has warned the city council against passing rules that will make it harder for tourists to enjoy legal marijuana. "We need to recognize that tourists are coming to this state to sample wine, to sample Washington marijuana, to sample any of the attributes of this destination city; that we accommodate that somehow," he told KPLU FM.

Medical Marijuana

Washington State Leaning Toward Allowing Home Medical Marijuana Grows. Members of the state Liquor Control Board signaled Friday they will recommend medical marijuana patients continue to be allowed to grow their own medicine. The state Health and Revenue departments and the liquor board had earlier proposed outlawing home growing once I-502 takes effect, but aroused a storm of outrage from patients and their supporters. The board is expected to formally recommend allowing the grows next week.

Colorado Could Cut Patient Fees. State health officials want to reduce the fee paid by licensed medical marijuana patients. The Board of Health will hear a proposal next week to drop the annual fee from $35 to $15. That's because the fund that pays for the patient registry has a $13 million surplus, and the fee is not supposed to be about generating revenue, just paying for the costs of the program. There are nearly 113,000 registered patients in the state.

Second Hearing Held on Guam Medical Marijuana Bill. A pending medical marijuana bill on Guam got a second public hearing Thursday. The island's public health director said he could not support the bill because there was no funding for regulation, but patients and medical marijuana supporters testified in support of the bill. The measure, Senate Bill 215, remains alive, and cosponsor Sen. Tina Muna Barnes said she was working on amendments based on feedback from the public.

Drug Testing

Michigan Senate Approves Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The Michigan Senate Thursday approved Senate Bill 275, which would set up a pilot program to start subjecting some welfare recipients to drug testing. Recipient would be screened and those for whom there was "a reasonable suspicion" of drug use would have to submit to a drug test. A first failed drug test would result in a referral to treatment, a second would result in loss of benefits. The Republican-supported bill passed on a straight party line vote. Similar legislation has been approved in the House.

Sentencing

Report Reviews Changes in Federal Sentencing Since Booker. A new report, Legal Change and Sentencing Norms in Federal Court: An Examination of the Impact of the Booker, Gall, and Kimbrough Decisions, finds that not that much has changed. A series of Supreme Court decisions beginning with Booker held that federal sentencing guidelines are merely advisory, and expectations were that their impact would be significant. But "the findings suggest that sentencing policy changes at the national level -- including reforms mandated by these cases -- neither uniformly nor dramatically transformed sentencing practices. Factors in individual cases were the largest predictor of sentencing outcomes over all time periods. Sentencing behavior across districts changed incrementally over time but did not dramatically shift during major policy changes."

International

Indian Maoists (Again) Linked to Black Market Marijuana Trade. India's long-festering revolutionary Maoist movement, the Naxalites, is once again linked to the illicit trade in drugs. Officials in Odisha are complaining that they cannot eradicate the Naxalites until they "have control over the illegal cultivation of cannabis, which, according to intelligence sources, has become a major source of funding for the Maoists." Six of eight named districts where large-scale pot growing is "a well known fact" are known as "highly Naxal-infested districts." The state government is engaged in manual eradication, but is considering aerial spraying.

Costa Rica Public Opinion Not Ready for Marijuana Legalization. Costa Rica is not ready to legalize marijuana, according to a new public opinion poll. The survey from the School of Statistics at the University of Costa Rica found that only 15% favored legalization, while 50% were opposed. Medical marijuana fared better, with 53% in favor.

British Activist to Open "Cannabis Café" in Manchester. Notorious marijuana activist Colin Davies, who once handed a bouquet of flowers including marijuana to the queen, has announced plans to open a cannabis café in Manchester. Davis, who was once jailed for marijuana trafficking, said no pot would be sold at the café; instead it will be BYOB. Marijuana remains a Class B drug in Britain, so Davis should be looking for a police reaction.

Chronicle AM -- December 12, 2013

A push is on to end the federal ban on needle exchange funding, a secret federal panel meets to discuss marijuana banking issues, UN anti-drug bureaucrats are still unhappy with Uruguay, more bodies show up in Mexico, and more. Let's get to it:

A move is on to end the federal ban on funding needle exchanges.
Marijuana Policy

Federal Banking Panel Meets on Pot Sales. The Bank Secrecy Act Advisory Group (BSAAG) met in Washington, DC, Thursday to discuss how to deal with banking issues related to medical marijuana and legal marijuana industries. Under current federal laws, marijuana sellers can't set up bank accounts or process credit card transaction because financial institutions fear being implicated in drug trafficking or money laundering cases. The meeting is closed-door, and there is no word yet on what, if anything, was decided.

One Year In, Coloradans Still Like Marijuana Legalization. A Public Policy Polling survey released this week found that Coloradans still support marijuana legalization. The poll found 53% agreed that marijuana use should be legal. It will be interesting to see the poll numbers a year from now, when Coloradans have had time to experience a legal marijuana industry. That begins on January 1.

Washington State Regulators Want to Ban Pot Smoking Wherever Alcohol is Sold. The state Liquor Control Board, which is also in charge of legal marijuana commerce, has proposed banning marijuana consumption in businesses licensed for liquor sales, but a Wednesday meeting saw loud opposition, in particular from Frankie Schnarr, owner of Frankie's Sports Bar and Grill in Olympia. Schnarr years ago emerged victorious in a battle with the board over whether he could open the second floor of his bar to smokers, who joined a "club" for the privilege. Schnarr opened his club to pot smokers after I-502 passed, and now claims 13,500 club members. Schnarr and others said the proposed rule was aimed directly at him. The board will vote on the proposed rule next week.

Philadelphia "Smoke Down Prohibition" Marijuana Prosecutions Continue, So Will Demonstrations. Comedian NA Poe will be sentenced Friday in federal court for smoking pot at Independence Hall as part of Philly NORML's ongoing Smoke Down Prohibition demonstrations. Two more members of the "Liberty Bell 4," Chris Goldstein and Don Dezarn will go on trial next week for puffing pot in demos this past summer, while a fourth, US Marine veteran Mike Whiter will make his first court appearance on similar federal charges. Click on the link for more details and how you can participate.

Gov. Cuomo Dismisses New York Legalization Bill as "Non-Starter." Well, that didn't take long. Yesterday, state Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) announced she was introducing a marijuana legalization bill. That same day, a Cuomo spokesman scoffed at the bill, calling it "a non-starter."

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Medical Marijuana Expansion Wins Assembly Committee Vote. A bill that would allow Garden State medical marijuana patients to buy the drug in other states and bring it back with them passed the Assembly Health Committee on a 7-4 vote Thursday. But Gov. Chris Christie (R) has said he will veto it or any other expansion of the state's program.

Harm Reduction

Maryland Docs, Scientists Call for End to Federal Needle Exchange Funding Ban. In the wake of the budget agreement announced this week by congressional negotiators, more than 70 Maryland-based doctors and scientists sent an open letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) urging her to act to get the longstanding ban on federal needle exchange funding lifted. The ban had been overturned in 2010, but was reinstated without any public debate during budget negotiations the following year.

Pain Pills

State Attorneys General Call on FDA to Reconsider Zohydro Approval. The FDA is running into more flak over its October decision to approve the first hydrocodone-only drug in America, Zohydro, which will be available in a time-release form. Four US senators challenged the decision earlier this week, and now, 28 state attorneys general have asked the agency to reconsider. They cited the roll-out of earlier pain relieving drugs in time-release formulas, which they said resulted in "overzealous pharmaceutical sales" and "doctors overprescribing narcotics," among other ills. But Attorneys General are typically trained as lawyers, not doctors or pharmacists, and they seem oblivious to the continuing problem of undertreatment of pain that their campaigns foster. The FDA said it would reply directly to the law enforcement officials.

International

UNODC Criticizes Uruguay Marijuana Legalization. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) isn't happy with Uruguay. The South American nation's decision to legalize marijuana is a blow against international cooperation in the war on drugs, said UNODC head Yuri Fedotov. "Just as illicit drugs are everyone's shared responsibility, there is a need for each country to work closely together and to jointly agree on the way forward for dealing with this global challenge," he said in a statement. He also called the move "unfortunate."

More Mass Graves in Mexico. Authorities in the central Mexican state of Morelos have uncovered two mass graves containing at least 20 bodies. Authorities believe some of the bodies are victims of the Beltran Leyva cartel, which was largely dismantled two years ago. Others were apparently killed more recently. The discovery comes on the heels of a similar gruesome find in western Michoacan state, where the latest count had 66 bodies removed from mass graves there. More than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Mexico's prohibition-related violence since 2006 and tens of thousands more have disappeared, including more than a thousand in the past two years in Moreleos, according to the state human rights commission.

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