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Chronicle AM -- January 27, 2014

Florida's medical marijuana initiative will go to the voters in November, the DEA administrator is being both jeered and cheered for her criticism of President Obama's remarks on marijuana, the Supreme Court makes it harder to punish drug dealers for deaths related to their wares, and much more. Let's get to it:

Drug War Chronicle takes no position on the game.
Marijuana Policy

DEA Head Criticizes Obama Marijuana Remarks, Faces Calls to be Ousted. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart last week got a standing ovation from a convention of sheriffs when she criticized President Obama's remarks on the relative safety of marijuana compared with alcohol. But now, drug reformers are calling for her head.

Colorado and Washington NORML in Superbowl "Bud Bowl" Challenge. The contenders in Sunday's NFL Superbowl game, the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, both come from states where marijuana is legal. In honor of their hometown teams and their respective states' legal marijuana status, NORML chapters in Washington and Colorado have engaged in a friendly wager. If the Denver Broncos win, WA NORML has agreed to dress in Bronco colors of blue and orange and sing Karaoke-style Colorado's (second) official state song "Rocky Mountain High" by John Denver. If the Seattle Seahawks win, CO NORML will do the same, but in Seahawk blue and green and singing "Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix, a native son of Seattle. [Ed: StoptheDrugWar.org has no position on either the game or the wager.]

New Jersey State Senator Announces Plans to Introduce Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D) said late last week that he plans to introduce a bill to legalize marijuana. The bill is not yet filed, but envisions language that would tax and regulate marijuana like alchohol.

Harris County (Houston) DA Says Decriminalize It. Responding to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (R) remarks last week in Davos that he supported decriminalization of marijuana possession, Harris County DA Devon Anderson said she agrees with his call for decriminalization.

Seattle City Attorney Wants More Marijuana Stores. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes last Thursday reiterated his request that the Washington State Liquor Control Board increase the number of marijuana retail stores allowed in the city. The board has set the number at 21, but Holmes has said that is not going to be enough.

Oregon Marijuana Legalization Referendum Bill Filed. State Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-District 4) and several cosponsors have introduced Senate Bill 1556, which would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana possession and commerce for adults. If passed by the legislature, the measure would then go before voters on the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Supreme Court Approves Medical Marijuana Initiative -- It's Going to the Voters! The Florida Supreme Court Monday removed the final obstacle to the state's medical marijuana initiative appearing on the November ballot. It rejected a challenge to the measure's language by Attorney General Pam Bondi (R). The initiative has already had enough signatures validated to qualify. Click on the link to read the opinion and the text of the initiative.

Guam Medical Marijuana Bill Now Calls for Referendum. Sen. Tina-Muna Barnes, sponsor of medical marijuana Bill 215, announced Monday that she has rewritten the bill "to allow for a referendum, thus placing the question before the People of Guam in the 2014 General Election." She made the change, she said, because "the overwhelming majority of senators from both parties felt that an issue of this importance should be decided by the people directly."

Medical Marijuana Dispensary Licenses Set To Be Awarded In Massachusetts. The state Department of Public Health says it hopes to award up to 35 medical marijuana dispensary licenses this week. More than a hundred applications have been submitted. State law allows up to five dispensaries in each county in the state.

Drug Testing

Bangor (PA) School District Wants Random Drug Tests for Teachers. A policy that would make the Bangor Area School District the only one in the state to require random, suspicionless drug testing of teachers is part of negotiations for a new union contract. The contract being discussed wouldn't impose random drug testing, but would require teachers to put it to a vote. The issue came to the fore in the area after a teacher died of a heroin overdose in the apartment of a wrestling coach in 2009.

Illinois Welfare Drug Testing Bill Introduced. State Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) has introduced a bill that would require welfare applicants to undergo a drug test before becoming eligible to receive benefits. House Bill 4255 does not include an intermediary step of drug screening to determine which applicants are likely to be drug users, but goes straight to testing all applicants. The federal courts have found similar laws unconstitutional.

Sentencing

US Supreme Court Restricts Heroin Death Sentencing Enhancement. The US Supreme Court ruled Monday that a heroin dealer cannot be held liable for a customer's death if the heroin use was only a contributing factor and not necessarily the sole cause. Federal law imposes a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence when "death or serious injury results from the use" of an illegal drug, and prosecutors have used the statute to win the tough sentences, but the high court held Monday that prosecutors must prove that the drug was the specific cause of death, not just a contributing factor. The case is Burrage v. United States.

San Francisco Jail Population Dropping Because of Decrease in Drug Arrests. A report from the San Francisco board of supervisors' budget analysts says the jail population has dropped because of decreased drug arrests and city policies that promote alternatives to incarceration. The jail population is down 30% since 2008. The report comes as supervisors wrangle over whether the city needs a new jail and how big it should be.

Law Enforcement

DEA Busts Bitcoin Exchange CEO for Silk Road Money Laundering. Charlie Shrem, the CEO of BitInstant, a Bitcoin exchange, has been arrested by the DEA and is charged with money laundering for selling over $1 million in Bitcoins to users of the Silk Road dark web drug sales site, who used the currency to buy drugs there. Shrem faces federal money laundering charges. Shrem and an unnamed coconspirator were both charged. "Hiding behind their computers, both defendants are charged with knowingly contributing to and facilitating anonymous drug sales, earning substantial profits along the way," DEA agent James Hunt said in a release.

Virginia Bill to Criminalize "Secret Compartments" Filed. A bill introduced by state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) would make it a crime to knowingly have a secret compartment in a car -- even if there isn't anything in it. The bill, Senate Bill 234, makes having such a compartment a felony and defines a "false or secret compartment" as any enclosure that is integrated into or attached to a vehicle or vessel, the purpose of which is to conceal, hide, or prevent the discovery of a person, controlled substance, or other contraband.

International

Mexican President Invites Anti-Cartel Vigilantes to Join Security Forces. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said last Thursday that anti-cartel vigilantes or militias were a result of institutional weakness within national security forces and asked them to join those same security forces. He asked them to do "to do it by observing the principles and formalities of the law, fulfilling the requirements to become part of the security corps." The vigilantes are engaged in ongoing battles with the Knights Templar cartel in the state of Michoacan.

Dutch MP Calls on Government to Allow Marijuana Growing Pilot Projects. Labor MP Marith Rebel called last week for Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten to allow experiments with the legal production of marijuana. "Turning a blind eye to the fact the cafes are selling marijuana but not recognizing the fact they also have to buy it is helping criminals," Rebel said. Opstelten last month rejected calls from local councils to allow regulated grows, even though polls show majority support for the move.

New Zealand Greens Will Push for Marijuana Decriminalization, But Not Too Hard. New Zealand's Green Party says it will push for decriminalization in any post-election negotiations with Labor, but that the issue will not be a deal breaker. "I would like to progress a vast amount of our policy, and that would be one," said party coleader Metiria Turei. "We believe a drug-free lifestyle is the healthiest, but we don't believe people should be convicted of a crime, adults, if they smoke cannabis. So we still consider decriminalization is the wisest policy." But she also said the party had no bottom lines as it ponders the prospect of a coalition government with Labor.

Puerto Rico Man, Police Officer Become First Drug War Fatalities of 2014

Alexis Sanchez Agostini, who shot a member of the Puerto Rico Police Department's Mayaguez Drugs division and then allegedly killed himself, becomes the first person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations this year. Agent Carlos Rivera Vega, who died Tuesday, a week after being shot, becomes the second.

Agent Carlos Rivera Vega (PRPD)
Last year, 41 people were killed in such operations, down from more than 50 each in the previous two years, when the Chronicle began tracking such deaths.

According to the Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Dia, Vega and other members of the dope squad were investigating at the Concordia Public Housing Complex, when Agostini walked up and began questioning them about why they were there. He then pulled out a .357 caliber pistol and shot Vega in the stomach.

According to police, Agostini Vega then ran a short distance from the scene and took his own life.

Vega, a 14-year veteran of the department, was taken to a local hospital, but never recovered, succumbing to his wounds Tuesday.

Police refused to divulge further details about the investigation or the confrontation.

Mayaguez, PR
United States

Chronicle AM -- January 16, 2014

Florida's medical marijuana initiative appears poised to qualify for the ballot (if it survives a challenge in the state Supreme Court), a new poll finds the country evenly split on marijuana legalization, Afghanistan was on the agenda in the Senate yesterday, and more. Let's get to it:

harvesting opium poppies in Afghanistan (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

ABC News/Washington Post Poll Has Americans Split on Marijuana. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll has support for marijuana legalization nationwide at 49%, with 48% opposed. The poll is in the same ballpark as other polls since the November 2012 elections, where support for legalization has ranged between 45% and 58%. Click on the link to see full poll results.

DEA Operations Chief Bemoans Marijuana Legalization Trend. DEA operations chief James Capra told a Senate committee Wednesday that marijuana legalization at the state level was "reckless and irresponsible" and could lead to dire consequences. "It scares us," Capra said, responding to a question. "Every part of the world where this has been tried, it has failed time and time again." [Editor's Note: No country had legalized marijuana until Uruguay did late last year, and that hasn't gone into effect yet. If Capra is referring to Amsterdam, where sales are tolerated, if not technically legal, cannabis coffee shops are now in their fourth decade of existence, and the problems associated with them are relatively trivial.] "There are more dispensaries in Denver than there are Starbucks," he continued. "The idea somehow people in our country have that this is somehow good for us as a nation is wrong. It's a bad thing. This is a bad experiment. It's going to cost us in terms of social costs."

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Petitions Approved for Circulation. Secretary of State Jason Kander announced Wednesday that 13 marijuana legalization initiatives had been approved for signature-gathering. The bakers' dozen initiatives are all variations on a theme: legalize and regulate marijuana in Missouri. They were submitted by Columbia defense attorney Dan Viets, the chairman of the activist group Show-Me Cannabis. To make the November 2014 ballot, organizers must gather 157,778 valid voter signatures for at least one of them by May 4.

Maryland Coalition to Legalize Marijuana Launched. Maryland legislators Thursday launched an effort to get a marijuana legalization bill, the Marijuana Control Act of 2014, passed this year. They were joined at a press conference by members of the newly formed Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland, which includes the ACLU of Maryland, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the Maryland League of Women Voters, the Marijuana Policy Project, and the Maryland NAACP.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Campaign Has Gathered 1.1 Million Signatures. The folks behind the Florida medical marijuana initiative, United For Care/Patients United for Freedom, announced Wednesday night that they had gathered 1.1 million signatures, nearly half a million more than needed to qualify for the ballot. While all the signatures haven't been validated yet, organizers are now confident they will pass that hurdle. Now, they have to wait and see if the state Supreme Court is going to allow the effort to move ahead.

Washington Patients, Advocates Speak Out Against Bill That Would Gut Medical Marijuana System. The House Health Committee got an earful from medical marijuana advocates at a hearing Wednesday on House Bill 2149, which would eliminate cultivation cooperatives (and thus, dispensaries) by 2020 and reduce the amount of marijuana patients could possess and the number of plants they could grow. The bill mirrors many of the recommendations of the state Liquor Control Board, which is charged with implementing I-502 marijuana legalization.

Hemp

Indiana Hemp Bill Introduced. State Sen. Richard Young (D-Milltown) has introduced Senate Bill 357, which would allow the Department of Agriculture to license industrial hemp growing and production. The bill requires the department to get necessary approvals from the federal government, which has yet to approve any such production anywhere in the US.

Illinois Hemp Bill Seeks New Life in 2014. State Rep. Kenneth Dunkin (D-Chicago) introduced a hemp bill, House Bill 2668, last year, but it has languished in committee despite picking up some bipartisan support. He said Wednesday that he was cautiously optimistic that opposition may be softening, and the bill could move this year.

Heroin

Maine Heroin Deaths Up Fourfold from 2011 to 2012. The number of heroin overdose deaths in Maine quadrupled between 2011 and 2012, according to numbers released by state officials Wednesday. Officials said the increase was due to tightening restrictions on the use of prescription opiates, a cheap heroin supply, and, possibly, cuts in MaineCare. But while the increase was dramatic, the 28 heroin overdose deaths reported in 2012 is well below the 2005 peak of 43. In the years between 2005 and 2011, heroin deaths declined steadily.

Heroin Prevention Bill Package Passes Wisconsin Assembly. The State Assembly Wednesday passed the HOPE (Heroin Opiate Prevention and Education) package of four bills designed to reduce the number of overdose deaths in the state. Sponsored by Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), one bill would allow anyone to use naloxone to reverse overdoses, another would grant legal immunity to drug users who call for help in an overdose emergency, a third would allow communities to establish prescription drug drop-off points, and the fourth would require people to show ID when picking up prescription drugs. The naloxone and legal immunity bills are Assembly Bill 446 and Assembly Bill 447. The package now moves to the Senate.

Kratom

Oklahoma Wants to Ban Kratom, But Meets Resistance. The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics wants to ban the Southeast Asian herb kratom, which it calls "the legal form of heroin," but kratom fans are responding with dismay and disputing the narcs' assessment. Kratom is not a controlled substance under federal law, but narc Mark Woodward said he planned to ban it until it is federally proven to have medical benefits. Kratom users have started a petition to challenge efforts to ban Kratom.

Drug Courts

Study Finds Drug Courts Ignore Science When it Comes to Opiate Substitution Therapies. A small study of drug courts in New York state finds that their skeptical approach to opiate substitution therapies (OST), such as methadone and buprenorphine, can be a barrier to successful treatment. "Many courts do not respect medical consensus on scientifically sound treatment standards. Some courts included OST as part of court-mandated treatment options, while others allowed OST for a court-defined period of time as a bridge to abstinence. Still others showed intolerance and even disdain for anything having to do with methadone and buprenorphine, or -- as with the drug court in Albany County -- refused outright to admit people on methadone or buprenorphine treatment," the authors wrote. "Ordering people who are dependent on opioids to get off their prescribed methadone or buprenorphine medicines can force patients to seek out and become dependent on other opioids like prescription analgesics. Addiction to prescription opioids has been recognized as a priority problem by U.S. policy-makers, but drug courts may be exacerbating it."

Search and Seizure

ACLU Sues Border Patrol Over Interior Border Check Point Searches. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed suit against the Border Patrol, claiming its agent routinely violate the constitutional rights of local residents by stopping and searching them at interior checkpoints on highways near the border. In a 1976 ruling, the US Supreme Court ruled that immigration checkpoints were permissible if the stops were brief, involved "a limited enquiry into residence status," and a visual inspection of the exterior of the vehicle. "But that's not what's happening here," said ACLU attorney James Duff Lyall in Tucson. He said the cases mentioned in the lawsuit provide strong indications that the Border Patrol is using the checkpoints for general crime control, "which the courts have said is not acceptable for a checkpoint. The same thing is happening over and over again to many border residents," Lyall said. "They're going on fishing expeditions where there's no reasonable suspicion."

International

Afghan Drug Situation "Dire," Federal Auditor Tells Senators."The situation in Afghanistan is dire with little prospect for improvement in 2014 or beyond," Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko told the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control Wednesday. Poppy cultivation is at record levels and the drug trade now accounts for 15% of Afghan GDP, Sopko said.

US to Help Afghanistan With Drug Problem, State Department Official Tells Senators. At the same hearing mentioned in the story above, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs") William Brownfield vowed the US would remain committed to helping Afghanistan fight drug production and trafficking even after US and NATO troops pull out at the end of this year. "We will continue to ensure our counternarcotics programs are well integrated with broader US efforts, including assistance programs aimed at supporting a vibrant legal economy," he testified Wednesday. "The expanding cultivation and trafficking of drugs is one of the most significant factors putting the entire US and international donor investment in the reconstruction of Afghanistan at risk," he said.

Chronicle AM -- January 15, 2014

As the legislative season gets underway, bills are being introduced all over the place -- good, bad, and ugly. And there's trouble in Mexico, peace talks in Colombia, and more. Let's get to it:

The FARC are negotiating peace and coca crop reductions in Colombia.
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Bill Would Ban Local Bans on Marijuana Businesses. A bill introduced Tuesday with 10 cosponsors would essentially bar local governments from banning pot businesses by requiring them to cooperate with state regulators in allowing marijuana stores, grows, and processing facilities to operate. Under House Bill 2322, local governments would have to treat licensed marijuana enterprises the same as any other business that attempts to locate within their boundaries. They'd be barred from adopting zoning or other regulations that impede the establishment of pot businesses. Another measure, House Bill 2144, would offer a carrot to localities by giving them 30% of the state's excise tax on marijuana sales.

New Hampshire Governor Would Veto Legalization Bill. New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) said Tuesday that she would veto a pending marijuana legalization bill because she thinks it would send the wrong message to the state's youth. The House is voting on the bill today.

Missouri Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Rory Ellinger (D-University City) has filed a bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill is House Bill 1325. Click on the link to find it on the legislative web site.

Rhode Island Legalization Proponents Form Coalition. And then there was Regulate Rhode Island. Click on the link to check out the new coalition and its web site.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Medical Marijuana Pilot Program Bill Filed. Rep. Rory Ellinger (D-University City) has filed a bill that would allow for the use of medical marijuana. The bill is House Bill 1324. Click on the link to find it on the legislative web site.

Florida Initiative Campaign Passes Million-Signature Mark. The People United for Medical Marijuana campaign to put a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot passed the million-signature mark this past weekend, campaign director Ben Pollara said. The group needs 683,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot -- if the state Supreme Court allows it. The initiative has been challenged by state Attorney General Pam Bondi (R).

Medical Marijuana Bill Filed in Pennsylvania. Sens. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) and Mike Folmer (R-Dauphin) have introduced a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. The filing of the bill, Senate Bill 1182, marks the first time such a measure has been introduced with bipartisan support.

Kentucky Senate Committee Holds Medical Marijuana Hearing. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee is holding a public hearing today on medical marijuana, although the committee chair, Sen. Julie Denton (R-Louisville) said she is only interested in high-CBD cannabis oil. The committee will not vote because it is not addressing a specific bill, even though one medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 43, has already been filed.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Welfare Drug Testing Bill Passes House Committee. A divided House Public Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday approved a bill that would require some welfare recipients to undergo drug tests. House Bill 49 would require new recipients to be assessed to see whether there was a high probability they were using drugs, and if so, to undergo a drug test. It was expected to go to a full House vote today.

Florida Governor Appeals Federal Court Ruling on State Employee Drug Testing. Gov. Rick Scott (R) Monday asked the US Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of a drug testing policy aimed at state employees. The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals last year found the measure unconstitutional. Since taking office in 2011, Scott has made a high-profile issue of requiring drug tests for state employees and welfare recipients. But federal courts have ruled against him on both issues, as opponents have argued that government drug tests violate the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

Arizona Unemployment Benefits Drug Testing Bill Filed. Republican Reps. Phil Lovas and David Livingston and Republican Sen. Judy Burges have filed a bill that would require people seeking unemployment benefits to undergo drug screening, with drug testing mandated for those who appear likely to be using drugs. The bill, House Bill 2030, is similar to one passed in Texas last year, but put on hold because the federal Department of Labor has yet to determine which professions regularly require drug testing.

International

Colombia's FARC Presents Plan for Reducing Coca Cultivation. Colombia's FARC guerrillas, now in peace talks with the Colombian government in Havana, have presented a plan to reduce coca cultivation. The plan calls for demilitarizing the countryside and suspending aerial spraying of coca crops. Negotiations to end the country's 50-year-old insurgency have been going on for months and will continue.

Mexican Soldiers Meet Resistance in Bid to Disarm Vigilantes. Anti-cartel vigilantes in Michoacan offered up fierce resistance Tuesday as soldiers began trying to disarm the groups, which have taken control of a number of towns in the agricultural west-central Mexican state. Vigilantes said four people were killed in confrontations with the army; the army said one. The vigilantes said they would not give up their weapons until the government arrested top leaders of the Knights Templar cartel, which is based in the state and headquartered in the town Apatzingan. Vigilantes have taken several villages on its outskirts.

Turin Approves Medical Marijuana, Challenges Harsh Italian Drug Laws. The city council in the northern Italian city of Turin Tuesday approved a measure allowing for medical marijuana and rejecting a 2006 Italian law that undid the legal distinction between "soft" and "hard" drugs. The medical use of marijuana has been already allowed in some Italian regions like Liguria, Tuscany and Veneto, but the recreational consumption of the drug is still taboo there. Turin's move could spur more movement toward allowing recreational marijuana use.

Bermuda Activist Starts Online Petition for Medical Marijuana. Marijuana reform activist and attorney Alan Gordon has started an online petition asking Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley to allow emergency medical cannabis permits for cancer patients with a doctor's recommendation. Gordon says that Bermuda's drug law allows the minister to make case-by-case exceptions to the general ban on marijuana. He also wants the minister to publish rules for making applications for a waiver.

Chronicle AM -- January 13, 2014

Marijuana legalization is one step closer in the nation's capital, even Georgia Republican legislators are getting on the medical marijuana bandwagon, Syria's civil war is being fueled by speed, and more. Let's get to it:

Captagon, Middle Eastern speed. Just what every brutal civil war needs. (wikimedia.org)
DC Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed. Marijuana legalization activists filed an initiative with city officials last Friday to legalize the possession of up to two ounces and three plants by adults. Look for a Chronicle feature article on this later this week.

St. Louis Mayor Ask Residents to Weigh In on Marijuana Policy. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay (D) is asking residents what they think about marijuana legalization. His web site has the poll online (click the link above). The poll comes as activists organized as Show-Me Cannabis Regulation beat the bushes statewide in an effort to get legalization on the ballot in Missouri.

Maine US Senate Candidate Supports Legalizing Marijuana. Democratic Party US Senate candidate Shenna Bellow is making marijuana legalization a key plank in her platform. A former director of the ACLU of Maine, Bellow calls herself a progressive and a libertarian, and also supports bold action on climate change, less government surveillance, and raising the minimum wage. She also said she envisioned herself as a Senate leader on marijuana reform.

Maryland Republican State Senator to Cosponsor Legalization Bill. State Sen. Allen Kittleman (R-Howard) said last Friday he will cosponsor a marijuana legalization bill. The bill's other sponsor is Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery), but neither has actually filed the bill yet, according to the legislature's web site.

Dane County, Wisconsin, to Vote on Marijuana Legalization Referendum. Dane County (Madison) supervisors voted last Thursday to put an advisory referendum asking "Should the state government enact legislation legalizing marijuana?" on the spring ballot. In 2010, Dane County voters approved a medical marijuana advisory referendum with 75% of the vote. The spring election is set for April 1.

Medical Marijuana

New York Medical Marijuana Supporters Rally in Albany. Saying Gov. Cuomo's move last week to institute a limited medical marijuana program doesn't go nearly far enough, medical marijuana supporters rallied in Albany Monday to urge the state Senate and the governor to pass comprehensive pending legislation.

Medical Marijuana Business Conference in Oregon Later This Month. As Oregon prepares to enter the dispensary era, the Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference will be held January 30 and 31 to discuss issues surrounding dispensaries, ranging from banking problems to licensing and beyond. Click on the link for more details.

Georgia Republican Legislators Signal Openness to Medical Marijuana. Last Wednesday, Republican state Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) called for hearings on medical marijuana. Two days later, House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) said he was open to the idea. The moves come after local activists with the Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform, and Education (Georgia CARE) met with state officials about the issue. Peachtree NORML has also been working the issue there.

Drug Testing

Texas Unemployment Beneficiary Drug Screening Delayed. Texans applying for unemployment benefits were supposed to start being screened for evidence of drug use beginning February 1, but that isn't going to happen just yet. The Texas Workforce Commission, which is charged with implementing the law, says the US Labor Department has not provided guidance on who should be screened. The state was able to implement the law requiring screening of first-time applicants in some professions, Senate Bill 21, after Congress passed a law allowing states to drug test people receiving unemployment benefits, but the Labor Department has yet to outline which occupations fall within the parameters of the federal law.

Alabama State Senator Will File Welfare Drug Testing Bill. State Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Daphne) says he will sponsor legislation requiring drug testing of some welfare recipients. Pittman wants anyone convicted of a drug offense within the last five years to have to undergo a drug test. A similar Pittman bill got through the Senate last year, only to die without a vote in the House. While Pittman said he filed the bill already, it hasn't appeared on the state legislative web site. The Alabama legislative session begins tomorrow.

Tennessee Nurses Sue Over Drug Test Strip Searches. Four Nashville nurses who say they were forced to remove all their clothing and submit to drug tests after hospital officials said drugs were missing are now suing St. Thomas Hickman Hospital. No drugs were found and none of the nurses tested positive for drugs. Now, each is seeking $75,000 in damages. Click on the link for the gory details.

Harm Reduction

Wisconsin Naloxone Pilot Program Getting Underway. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has selected 47 state agencies to participate in a one-year pilot program allowing all emergency medical responders to administer the opioid overdose antidote naloxone. Some emergency personnel are already authorized to use naloxone, and is it being used with increasing frequency, from 2,900 times in 2010 to 3,700 in 2012.

Methamphetamine

Tennessee Controller Issues Report on Meth. The Tennessee Controller's Offices of Research and Education Accountability have issued an updated report on meth production that finds that two popular methods for curbing production have not been proven effective. Those measures are the electronic tracking of cold medication purchases, which has not resulted in a decline in the number of home meth labs in the state, and requiring prescriptions to purchase cold medicines, which has been associated in declines in some states, but other states have shown declines without imposing such laws. Click the link to read the report.

International

Speed Use, Production Cranking Up Amidst Syrian Civil War. Syria has become a major amphetamine exporter and consumer, Reuters reported Sunday. The county's brutal civil war is fueling demand, and the central government's loss of control over vast swathes of the country is creating opportunity for producers. The speed in question is Captagon, whose active ingredient, fenethylline, is metabolized by the body into the stimulants amphetamine and theophylline. Production has moved out of Lebanon and Turkey and into war-torn Syria, the report said. Captagon is a favored black market stimulant throughout the Middle East.

Fight Between Vigilantes and Knights Templar Cartel Continues in Mexico's Michoacan. Hundreds of armed vigilantes took over the Knights Templar Cartel stronghold of Nueva Italia Sunday. The vigilantes say they formed because the state and federal governments were not protecting their communities from the drug traffickers. Since the new year began, the vigilantes have taken over several other communities on the outskirts of Apatzingan, which is considered the Knights' stronghold. On Friday, masked men set fire to city hall there and burned and looted several local shops. The governor said he had asked for additional federal forces.

Second Singapore Drug Trafficker Escapes Death Sentence. Last week, the Singapore High Court resentenced a man to life imprisonment instead of death for a drug trafficking offense. The man, Subashkaran Pragasam, becomes the second person to escape the gallows since Singapore reformed its Misuse of Drugs Act in 2012 to allow judges to avoid a mandatory death sentence if the offender was low-level and cooperated with police.

(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.)

Chronicle AM -- January 9, 2014

Alaska appears poised to vote on marijuana legalization, New York's governor announces a half-step toward medical marijuana, the ACLU fights for our rights on a couple of fronts, and trouble could be coming to the coca fields of Peru. And more. Let's get to it:

Bolivian President Evo Morales has a new bully pulpit from which to crusade for coca. (wikimedia.org)
Alaska Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. Supporters of an initiative to legalize marijuana in Alaska handed in 46,000 signatures Wednesday. The campaign only needs 30,000 valid signatures to qualify for the August ballot. State election officials have 60 days to verify the signatures.

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed in Alabama. Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) has filed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. An as yet unspecified fine would apply to offenders. The bill has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee and will be scheduled for a hearing when the session gets underway next week.

Alabama Governor Rejects Legal and Medical Marijuana. Gov. Robert Bentley (R) said Wednesday he opposes legalizing marijuana for either recreational or medical purposes, although he suggested he would be open to FDA-approved medical marijuana products. "I do believe there are medications out there that will do the same thing," Bentley said. "Now if someone wants to use the medicine that is in marijuana, go through the testing when you do that through the FDA, go through all of that -- that's fine. I have no problem with that."

Medical Marijuana

New York Governor Announces Limited Medical Marijuana Program. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) used his State of the State address Wednesday to announce he will initiate a limited medical marijuana program through executive action. Advocates said the measure was not enough and that the state legislature needs to pass pending medical marijuana legislation.

Asset Forfeiture

Utah Moving to Undo Asset Forfeiture Reforms. The Utah legislature moved late last year to roll back asset forfeiture reforms approved by state voters in a 2000 referendum. In unanimous votes, legislators approved a bill that will kill the provision requiring reimbursement for property owners who win in court and to require prosecutors to file such cases in a timely manner. Read Radley Balko's lengthy report by clicking on the link.

Drugs and Pregnancy

Experts File Brief Challenging Use of Child Abuse Law against Pregnant Women Using Methadone. Some 76 groups and experts in maternal, fetal, and child health, addiction treatment, and health advocacy filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief before the New Jersey Supreme Court, urging it to overturn a lower court ruling making the state's civil child abuse law applicable to women who received medically prescribed methadone treatment while pregnant.

Search and Seizure

Indiana ACLU Challenges Pain Medication Drug Test Rules. The ACLU of Indiana filed a lawsuit Wednesday in federal court challenging a new state rule that requires patients prescribed a certain level of pain medications to undergo annual drug tests. The rule concocted by the state Medical Licensing Board last month requires such patients to sign a treatment agreement that includes agreement to undergo the annual tests. The ACLU argues that the rule violates Fourth Amendment proscriptions against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Massachusetts ACLU Sues to Block Drug Dog Sniffs of Prison Visitors. The ACLU of Massachusetts and a prisoners' rights group have filed a lawsuit in Suffolk County Superior Court seeking to block the state Department of Corrections from using drug dogs to search prison visitors. The suit seeks a preliminary injunction to immediately stop the practice and allow for public comment on the policy, which the department instituted in November. A hearing is set for January 24.

International

Peru Coca Eradication to Target VRAEM for First Time, DEVIDA Head Says. The Peruvian government for the first time will attempt to eradicate large amounts of coca crops in the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro river valleys (VRAEM), the head of the Peruvian anti-drug agency DEVIDA said Wednesday. The area is the most densely planted coca growing region in the world, accounting for more than half of all Peruvian production, and is the home of Shining Path guerilla remnants who got involved in the drug trade as their rebellion fizzled 20 years ago. DEVIDA wants to eradicate 37,000 acres of coca crops there, about 75% of total plantings in the region. Look for trouble when eradication efforts actually get underway, probably in August.

Bolivia to Use G-77 Post to Push for Legal Coca Leaf Internationally. Bolivian President Evo Morales has assumed chairmanship of the Group of 77 nations, and he said Wednesday that he would use his position to push for removing coca leaf from the 1961 UN Single Convention's list of internationally banned drugs. Bolivia briefly left the treaty in 2012 before returning last year with a reservation that it did not recognize the ban on coca leaf chewing. "Last year, we achieved recognition of traditional consumption of the coca leaf," he said. "Our next task will be to remove the coca leaf from the list of prohibited substances."

Germans Not Ready for Marijuana Legalization, Poll Finds. Only 29% of Germans said they favored legalizing marijuana in a new poll, while 65% were opposed. The only political party with a majority favoring legalization was the Greens, and just barely, with 51%. A Green politician, Monika Herrmann, is trying to open a Dutch-style cannabis coffee shop in Berlin's Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district, but would need federal government approval. This poll isn't going to help.

France Approves Marijuana-Based Medicine for Multiple Sclerosis. France's health ministry announced Thursday it had approved the use of Sativex, a cannabinoid mouth spray, to treat patients suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS). The drug is the first marijuana-based medicine to be made available in the country. Sativex is already approved in more than 20 countries.

Chronicle AM -- January 7, 2014

Another poll shows solid majority support for marijuana legalization, Florida's medical marijuana initiative appears to be within reach of qualifying for the ballot (if the state Supreme Court doesn't block it), Sweden's justice minister falls for a pot deaths hoax, and a UN official has a grim warning on Afghanistan. And more. Let's get to it:

Letting New Hampshire legislators know... (Facebook)
Marijuana Policy

CNN Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55% Nationwide. A new CNN/ORC International poll has support for marijuana legalization at 55% nationwide, up 12 points in two years. The poll also shows a dramatic decline in the number of people who think using marijuana is immoral.

Rally Called as New Hampshire House Votes on Marijuana Legalization Tomorrow. Supporters of House Bill 492, the marijuana legalization bill, are rallying tomorrow morning at the state house as the House prepares to vote on it. Click on the link for more details.

Galesburg, Illinois, Semi-Decriminalization Ordinance Passes. The Galesburg city council Monday night approved an ordinance that gives police the option of ticketing instead of arresting people caught with less than 2.5 grams of marijuana. The city had 68 pot possession arrests last year, costing about $1,100 each to process through the courts.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Backers Closing in on One Million Signature Mark. It's starting to look like the People United for Medical Marijuana ballot initiative may qualify for the ballot. Organizers need just over 683,000 valid signatures by February 1 and now say they will hit the million-signature mark by next week. If organizers succeed in coming up with enough valid signatures, they still have to wait for the state Supreme Court to rule on whether the initiative's ballot title and summary meet legal requirements. It has been challenged by Attorney General Pam Bondi (R).

New York Governor to Establish Medical Marijuana Program by Executive Action. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will announce at his State of the State address tomorrow that he will use his executive powers to implement a limited medical marijuana program.

Drug Testing

Sisters Sue Chicago Housing Authority over Drug Testing Policies. A pair of sisters who live in a mixed-income development owned by the Chicago Housing Authority have filed suit in federal court over the CHA's policy of requiring suspicionless drug testing of residents. DeAnn and Jessica Steubenfield filed the suit in the fall. It is at least the second lawsuit filed against the CHA over the practice; the ACLU of Illinois filed its own lawsuit earlier. The two cases will get a joint hearing in May. CHA is the only housing authority in the country to require suspicionless drug testing.

Law Enforcement

Washington State Drug Task Force Pays $375,000 in Snitch's Murder. Four law enforcement agencies that make up Washington's Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Narcotics Task Force have agreed to pay the parents of a murdered snitch $375,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that the cops failed to protect the man after using him to arrest a heroin dealer. Jeremy McLean, 26, agreed to snitch in a bid to avoid charges of his own, and was killed by one of the people he ratted out. The killer is now doing life in prison.

International

Afghanistan Could Become "Fragmented Criminal State," UN Drug Expert Warns. Afghanistan's booming narcotics trade risks splintering the country into a "fragmented criminal state" if the government and its western allies do not step up efforts to tackle opium production, a senior UN official has warned. Opium farming hit a record high this year, and Jean-Luc Lemahieu, outgoing head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's Afghanistan office, said production would likely continue to soar before it falls. "If we are not careful, then Afghanistan has a real risk of becoming a fragmented criminal state," he said.

Uruguay Could Become Medical Marijuana Research Hub. Uruguayan presidential spokesman Diego Canepa told the Associated Press Monday that foreign laboratories have told the government they want to set up labs there to study the potential medicinal uses of marijuana. "Uruguay will become a hub for biotechnology," he said. One report said that Canada is discussing the possibility of importing Uruguayan weed for its medical marijuana program.

Swedish Justice Minister Bites on Colorado Marijuana Overdose Hoax. Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask is facing ridicule for posting on her Facebook page a spoof article that claimed 37 people died of marijuana overdoses the day Colorado legalized the weed. She accompanied her post with comments about her zero-tolerance views on drugs. "Stupid and sad," she wrote above the hoax article. "My first bill in the youth wing was called Outfight the Drugs! In this matter I haven't changed opinion at all." After criticism emerged in social media, her press minister tried to explain that she knew the article was fake and was trying to criticize its publisher for joking about a serious matter.

Kyrgyzstan Addiction Doctor, Politician Says Legalize Marijuana. Addiction specialist and former Kyrgyz presidential candidate Jenishbek Nazaraliev is calling for marijuana to be legalized to reduce drug addiction, fight street crime, and increase tax revenues. He is calling on the government to create a pilot program for legal production near Lake Issyk-Kul, where two-thirds of families are already growing marijuana for the black market. But Kyrgyzstan's State Drug Control Service disagrees.

Chronicle AM -- January 6, 2014

Marijuana continues to suck all the air out of the room when it comes to drug policy, with news on the legalization, medical, and international fronts. The only non-marijuana-related item we have today is the murder of a confidential informant. Let's get to it:

Maryland Senate President Ready to Legalize Marijuana. Maryland Senate President Thomas "Mike" Miller Jr. said Friday he would support legislation to legalize and tax marijuana. "I favor the legalization and taxation of marijuana, with restrictions," Miller said. "I know where people are going to be a generation or two from now."

Arizona Activists Aim at 2016 Marijuana Legalization Initiative. A drive to put a marijuana legalization on the ballot this year in Arizona is going nowhere. Supporters have gathered only 10,000 of the 259,200 signatures needed by July 3 to qualify for the ballot, and have no money to fund signature gathering, so they are now looking to 2016, when big bucks are more likely to be available.

Rasmussen Low-Ball Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization at Only 41%. A new poll from the conservative pollster Rasmussen has support for legalization at only 41%, with 50% opposed. That's down three points from a Rasmussen poll last August. The Rasmussen polls are low end outliers; most other polls show support for legalization at or above 50%.

Medical Marijuana

New York Governor to Move on Medical Marijuana. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will issue an executive order allowing a small number of hospitals in the state to recommend medical marijuana to patients. He is expected to make the formal announcement during his state of the state address Wednesday.

West Virginians Rally for Medical Marijuana As Polls Finds Support. Small numbers of people rallied in Huntington Sunday in support of medical marijuana. They also set up shop over the weekend in front of the Cabell County Courthouse, holding signs and educating passersby. Lawmakers are preparing to reintroduce legislation there, and a new poll finds that 56% of West Viriginians support legalizing medical marijuana, up three points from last year.

Tennessee Legislator Files Medical Marijuana Bill. Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) has filed a bill that would allow for the use of medical marijuana under limited conditions. The last effort to legalize medical marijuana in Tennessee went nowhere in 2012.

Guam Senator Wants Medical Marijuana Bill Discussed This Month. Sen. Tina Muna Barnes (D-Mangilao) said she is working on amendments to her pending medical marijuana legislation, Bill 215, and wants it discussed this month. If that doesn't happen, the bill should go to the floor sometime in the first quarter of the year, she said.

Law Enforcement

Oregon Snitch Killed. An Oregon man was working as an informant for the Polk County Interagency Narcotics Team (POINT) when he was killed by the people he was trying to set up last month, according to a police affidavit unsealed last Thursday. James Hawkes IV was beaten, shocked with a stun gun, hogtied, and gagged before his disfigured body was left near a cemetery. Two men now face murder charges in his death.

International

Peru Should Consider Marijuana Legalization, Former Drug Head Says. Former head of DEVIDA, the Peruvian drug agency, Ricardo Soberon, has called on the government there to open a dialogue on marijuana legalization. "We must open the debate with Carmen Masias, the President of DEVIDA, and the Peruvian Medical School. Let's open a forum that deals, first and foremost, with the health issues and secondly with safety and the implications of [marijuana] use," Soberon said. "The possibility of removing the criminal element from the cannabis trade -- a drug that is a lot less dangerous than others -- is the answer to 50 years of repeating the same strategies with no results."

New Zealand Cannabis Party Wants Marijuana Treated Like Legal Highs. The Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party is calling on the government to amend the Psychoactive Substances Act to include marijuana. The groundbreaking act seeks to deal with new synthetic drugs by regulating them instead of banning them. The party notes that the government has already approved several synthetic cannabinoids, so why not the real thing?

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

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