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Chronicle AM -- March 7, 2014

Oregon's medical marijuana dispensary regulation bill has passed the legislature with only temporary local bans allowed, more CBD medical marijuana bills are moving, an Indiana hemp bill has passed the legislature, and more. Let's get to it:

Yours truly with Peruvian coca farmer. The government wants to eradicate his crop. (Phil Smith/stopthedrugwar.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Cops Want Marijuana Tax Dollars Because…. Colorado police chiefs have written a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) asking for a bigger cut of marijuana tax revenues. "Many of our local law enforcement agencies have diverted staff from other operations into marijuana enforcement, leaving gaps in other service areas as a direct result of marijuana legalization," according to the letter from the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police. They claim they need more money to learn how to spot stoned drivers, to pay for "oral fluid testing" at DUI stops, and to create a database of marijuana-related crime.

Maryland Senate Committee Approves Decriminalization Bill. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee approved a decriminalization bill on a 8-3 vote Friday. Senate Bill 364, cosponsored by Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore) and Sen. Allan Kittleman (R-Howard), would replace criminal penalties for possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana with a $100 fine, similar to a parking ticket. It would also make penalties for minors the same as those for underage possession of alcohol. Under current Maryland law, possession of small amounts of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Puerto Rico Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana Approval Looming. Bills that would decriminalize small-time pot possession (Senate Bill 517) and allow for medical marijuana (House Bill 1362) in Puerto Rico are due for debate soon and are expected to pass. The decrim bill has already passed the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Home Grow Bill Passes House. The House Friday approved a bill that would allow patients to grow their medicine while waiting for the state to develop regulations for dispensaries and commercial medical marijuana cultivation. House Bill 1622 now heads for the state Senate.

Michigan Medical Marihuana Review Panel Recommends PTSD as Qualifying Condition. The Michigan Medical Marihuana Review Panel appointed by the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has decided to recommend that the department add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. It is now up to Steve Arwood, Director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, to accept or reject the recommendation. If he does, Michigan will become the 8th state to allow marijuana for the treatment of PTSD.

South Carolina CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes House Panel. A bill that would allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil for epileptic seizures passed a House subcommittee Thursday. House Bill 4803, sponsored by Rep. Jenny Horne (R-Summerville), calls for clinical trials of a CBD-based drug, but very few can participate in such trials, Hilton said. While the bill would also allow doctors to prescribe CBD oil pharmaceuticals, it's unclear whether all doctors would be able to do so.

Alabama CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Stalls in Senate. A bill that would allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil for treatment of seizure disorders hit a roadblock as the Senate adjourned Thursday before taking it up. Senate Bill 174 could still get a hearing next week, though.

California Dispensary Limits Bill Gets Hearing Next Week. A bill that would expand the minimum distance of dispensaries or collectives from schools to 1,000 feet (up from 600 feet under current law) is set for a hearing next week. Assembly Bill 1588 will go before the Assembly Public Safety Committee Wednesday. It is opposed by Cal NORML.

Oregon Dispensary Regulation Bill Passes With Only Temporary Local Bans Allowed. The Oregon Senate Friday gave final approval to a statewide dispensary regulation bill after the House approved compromise language that would allow localities to issue moratoria on dispensaries, but only for a year while they figure out how to regulate them. Senate Bill 1531 now heads to the governor's desk.

Hemp

Indiana Hemp Bill Goes to Governor. A bill that would license Indiana farmers to grow hemp has been approved by the legislature. Senate Bill 357 passed the Senate unanimously last month and passed the House 93-4 earlier this week. Because it was amended in the House, the Senate needed to approve the changes. It has now done so, and the bill awaits the signature of Gov. Mike Pence (R).

Harm Reduction

Transnational Institute Releases Paper on Cocaine Harm Reduction. The Transnational Institute has released the latest paper in its Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies. The paper, Cocaine: Toward a Self-Regulation Model -- New Developments in Harm Reduction, argues that most cocaine users do not "escalate toward addiction," but instead self-regulate their use, and that drug treatment programs stressing the disease model of addiction should be replaced by programs that empower users and their ability to self-regulate.

Federal Overdose Prevention Bill Reintroduced. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) and 18 cosponsors reintroduced the Stop Overdose Stat Act (House Resolution 4169) Friday in a bid to reduce the toll of fatal drug overdoses. It would provide federal support for overdose prevention programs run by community agencies and municipal, state and tribal governments. The bill is supported by the American Medical Association, the Trust for America's Health, the Drug Policy Alliance and the Harm Reduction Coalition.

Law Enforcement

Press Conference Monday to Promote New Jersey Bail Reform. The Assembly Judiciary Committee is set to hear a bail reform bill Monday morning, but before that happens, supporters of the legislation will hold a statehouse news conference will faith leaders. Click on the link for more details. A number of bail bills have been filed; it's not clear which one(s) will be heard.

International

Italian Government Won't Challenge Abruzzo Law Allowing Medical Marijuana. The Italian government has decided not to challenge a regional law that would permit the supply of cannabis-based prescription drugs in Abruzzo, government sources said. The decision would open the door for legal marijuana use for therapeutic purposes in the central Italian region. The case refers to a law passed this past January. The area has been on the vanguard of cannabis legislation in Italy for years.

Peru Will Spend $300 Million to Eradicate Coca Crops. Peru's government has reaffirmed its pledge to meet a coca eradication target set at 30,000 hectares by allocating US $300 million for boosting ongoing efforts to tackle drug trafficking, Peruvian Prime Minister, Rene Cornejo, said on Thursday. Cornejo's remarks came during the signing ceremony of a financing agreement with the European Union to support the country's National Anti-Drug Strategy. Peru is once again the world's largest coca and cocaine producer, after losing that title to Colombia late in the last century.

Israeli Health Ministry Approves Medical Marijuana for Epileptic Kids. The Health Ministry has decided to approve the use of medical marijuana for children suffering from extreme cases of epilepsy, but only if other drugs are ineffective or less effective. It's not clear if only high-CBD cannabis oils are approved, but the exception for epilepsy is only for kids. The ministry also added fibromyalgia to the list of approved diseases and conditions.

Chronicle AM -- March 5, 2014

Washington state's marijuana legalization passes a milestone, the DEA gets an earful on pot in Congress, the fight over Oregon's statewide dispensary regulation bill continues, pain pill prescriptions decrease, Indian poppy farmers are plagued by strung-out antelope, and more. Let's get to it:

"Hey, buddy, know where I can score?" Opium-addicted nilgai are wrecking Indian poppy crops. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Lawmakers Take on DEA Over Marijuana in Congressional Committee Hearing. DEA official Thomas Harrigan was on the hot seat at a hearing of the House Government Oversight Committee Tuesday. "There are no sound scientific, economic or social reasons to change our nation's marijuana policy," Harrigan told loudly skeptical lawmakers, even though he could not point to one death caused by marijuana. Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Steve Cohen (D-TN) were among those who raked Harrigan over the coals. Click on the link for more.

First Ever Marijuana Producer License in Washington Granted in Spokane. The Washington State Liquor Control Board has granted the first license to grow marijuana for the state's legal pot market. The honor goes to Kouchlock Productions of Spokane, owned by Sean Green, who also owns dispensaries in Spokane and Seattle.

Oregon Bill to Put Legalization on November Ballot Dead in Senate. The Oregon legislature will not act to put marijuana legalization before the voters in November. A bill to do so, Senate Bill 1556, sponsored by Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Portland), doesn't have the votes to pass the Senate and faces near certain death in committee, lawmakers said Tuesday. That means if Oregon wants to legalize it this year, it will have to happen through the citizen initiative process.

North Carolina Poll Has Slight Majority Opposing Legalization. A new Elon Poll has 51% of North Carolinians opposed to marijuana legalization, with 39% in favor. The only demographic group to support legalization was young people. Among the 18-to-30 group, 54% said legalize it.

Medical Marijuana

Marijuana Foes Urge Justice Department Not to Reschedule, Call for More Research. Project SAM, addiction-oriented medical groupings, and anti-drug groups sent a letter Wednesday to the Justice Department urging it to resist calls to reschedule marijuana and calling instead for easier access to marijuana for researchers. The signatories have "deep concern" about the "normalization" of marijuana and about "recent statements from members of Congress diminishing the harms and dangers of marijuana use."

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Wins House Committee Vote. The House Health and Human Services Committee advanced a medical marijuana bill Tuesday. House File 1818 now moves to the House Government Operations Committee, but faces opposition from law enforcement, which is demanding that marijuana be available only in pill, liquid, or vapor form.

Compromise on Oregon Dispensary Regulation Bill Would Allow Only Temporary Local Bans. Legislators trying to get the statewide dispensary regulation bill, House Bill 1531, through the House have floated the idea of allowing localities to enact temporary moratoria of up to a year in a bid to win over cities and counties that have objected to having to allow dispensaries to operate. The bill has already passed the Senate without allowing localities to ban dispensaries, and bill sponsors have indicated they will not support a bill that allows bans. Stay tuned.

Michigan Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Restriction Bill. A bill that would prohibit medical marijuana users from growing or smoking their medicine in rental properties, including apartments and hotels, passed the Senate Tuesday. Senate Bill 783, sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), allows landlords to ban such activities in leases. The bill now heads to the House.

Hemp

Nebraska Hemp Bill Passes Senate. A bill to allow the production, sale, and purchase of industrial hemp overwhelmingly passed the Senate Tuesday. Legislative Bill 1001 passed on a vote of 32-1. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Norm Wallman (D-Cortland). It now goes to the House.

Drug Testing

Florida Bill to Drug Test Politicians Filed. State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-Cape Coral) has filed a bill to require drug testing for judges and elected officials. The bill, House Bill 1435, is intended to "ensure that public officers are sober as they undertake their responsibility to make policy decisions that affect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens they represent." But similar laws have been struck down as unconstitutional in the federal courts.

Prescription Drugs

Opioid Prescriptions Decrease. Doctors and healthcare providers wrote approximately 11 million fewer prescriptions for narcotic painkillers in 2013 than in 2012. They wrote about 230 million prescriptions for opioids such as Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet in 2013 according to data from IMS Health, a drug market research firm. That's down about 5% from 2012, when about 241 million prescriptions were written.

Synthetic Drugs

Kentucky Bill Would Up Penalties for Synthetic Drugs. State Rep. Ben Waide (R-Madisonville) Tuesday introduced a bill to increase the penalties for possession and trafficking of synthetic drugs. House Bill 495 would reduce the weights of synthetic drugs that trigger trafficking charges and would shift a first offense from a misdemeanor to a felony.

International

Indian Villagers Want Leopards Returned to Protect Legal Opium Crops From Strung-Out Antelope. Poppy farmers in Madhya Pradesh's opium belt want leopards returned to their area because, in their absence, opium-addicted nilgai (antelope) are wreaking havoc with their crops. The district had two leopards until 2008, but they were removed after farmers complained they feared for their lives. But since then, the population of nilgai has skyrocketed, fearlessly attacking poppy crops, and now the villagers want the big cats back. "Our opium fields were safe as long as leopard was here," said one. [Ed: Note that India including the Madhya Pradesh province is one of the countries providing licit opium growing for the global medicinal market.]

Mexican Vigilantes Demand Resignation of Apatzingan Mayor. Vigilantes opposed to the presence of the Knights Templar Cartel in the western state of Michoacan took over city hall in Apatazingan, a city of 100,000, Monday and demanded the resignation of the mayor, who they say is allied with the cartel. The vigilantes had entered the city three weeks ago, but pulled back to the outskirts and set up checkpoints to prevent cartel members and supporters from entering. The vigilantes are allied with Mexican security forces, who are attempting to absorb them as Rural Defense Forces.

Chronicle AM -- March 3, 2014

DC should decriminalize tomorrow, New Mexico looks to expand its medical marijuana program, harm reduction bills move in a couple of states, Mexican police repress a pro-El Chapo demonstration, and more. Let's get to it:

The shrine to narco-saint Jesus Malverde in Culiacan. (Phil Smith, Drug War Chronicle, 2008)
Marijuana Policy

DC Decriminalization Bill Expected to Get Final Vote Tomorrow. The District of Columbia city council is expected to give final approval tomorrow to a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of weed, with a $25 fine. It has the support of eight of 13 council members, so it should be a done deal, but stay tuned tomorrow.

Legalization Bill Introduced in Florida. State Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Orlando) has introduced a legalization bill in the Sunshine State. Senate Bill 1562 was filed Friday. The proposal comes as Florida voters prepare to cast ballots in November on legalizing medical marijuana. Also, lawmakers are considering proposals to legalize a marijuana extract that can help some children who have a form of epilepsy and suffer from severe seizures.

Medical Marijuana

California Statewide Regulation Bill Has Support of Cops, Cities. For the first time, California law enforcement and local government associations are backing legislation to regulate the medical marijuana industry. The California Police Chiefs Association and the League of California cities are supporting Senate Bill 1262, filed by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), but the bill is opposed by friends of medical marijuana, who object to its provisions setting limits on doctors who recommend it.

New Jersey Annual Medical Marijuana Reports Out. The state Department of Health has released the 2013 Annual Report and the 2013 Biennial Report on the status of the state's medical marijuana program. The state has 1,585 active registered patients, 121 active registered caregivers, and six registered dispensaries. Both reports are at the link.

Massachusetts Caregiver Flouts Regs, Grows for More than One Patient. Longtime Bay State marijuana activist Bill Downing has gone public with his flouting of the state's medical marijuana regulations. He says he is providing medical marijuana to some 350 patients, but state regulations say he can be a caregiver for only one. Downing says it's the regulations that are in conflict with the state's medical marijuana law, not him. "The regulation violates the statute. The statute allows for caregiving. The regulation does not," he said. And the state Health Department knows what he is up to, he added.

New Mexico to Address Medical Marijuana Shortage, Adds New Conditions. Acknowledging that a shortage of medical marijuana exists in the state, the Department of Health Friday proposed increasing the number of plants and seedlings that licensed producers can grow and opening the application process to allow more producers to apply for licenses. There are only 23 licensed producers in the state, and demand is rising. Under the proposals announced Friday, producers would be able to boost their crop from a total of 150 plants and seedlings to as many as 150 mature plants and 300 seedlings. The state would also be looking to add another 12 producers to the list. The number of patients in the state jumped to more than 10,000 last year, an increase of 1,200 over the previous year. The department also announced it was adding Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases to the list of qualifying conditions to get into the program.

Solid Majority Favors Medical Marijuana in Iowa Poll. Nearly six out of 10 Iowans (59%) support legalizing medical marijuana, according to the latest Iowa Poll. But only 28% support legalization. Medical marijuana bills are introduced in the legislature every year, but have yet to go anywhere.

Harm Reduction

Overdose Reversal Drug Bill Moving in Ohio. A bill that would expand access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) remains alive after the House voted to concur in changes made to it in the Senate. Substitute House Bill 170, sponsored by Rep. Terry Boose (R-Norwalk) has an emergency clause and will go into effect immediately upon signature by Gov. John Kasich (R).

Good Samaritan 911 Bill Moving in Georgia. A bill that would provide limited immunity from prosecution on drug charges for people who seek emergency treatment for drug overdose victims has passed the House. House Bill 965, also known as the Georgia 911 Medical Amnesty Law, now awaits action in the Senate.

Asset Forfeiture

Asset Forfeiture Reporting Bill Gets Hearing in Maryland. A bill that would require police to report the type of property seized, the crime with which it is supposedly linked, and the disposition of any related criminal cases has been heard in the Maryland Senate. Senate Bill 468, sponsored by Sen. Christopher Shank (R-Washington County), got a hearing last week in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, but no vote was taken.

International

Mexican Police Arrest 40 in Pro-El Chapo Guzman Demonstration in Culiacan. Police in Culiacan, Sinaloa, arrested about 40 people Sunday who were planning to demonstrate in support of captured Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. About 150 supporters had gathered at the shrine to Jesus Malverde, informal patron saint of drug traffickers, in Culiacan, and about 40 were arrested when they refused to disperse. Some shouted "Long live Chapo." More than a thousand people marched for Guzman in Culiacan last week, and police wanted to prevent a repeat of signs of public support.

Drug Reformers Head to New Zealand for Conference on Regulating Legal Highs. Drug reformers from around the globe are heading to Auckland later this month to discuss the Psychoactive Substances Act and advocate further drug reform. The Pathway to Reform conference will take place on March 20.

Conservative Norwegian MP Charged in Hash Scandal Case. Erik Skutle, the Conservative Party member of parliament who took Prime Minister Erna Solberg's seat when she took the leadership position, has been charged with hashish use in a case that has embarrassed his "zero tolerance" political party. He was charged Thursday, a day after he publicly proposed decriminalizing cannabis possession as the scandal emerged. But it looks like he will retain his seat in parliament.

A Thousand March for "El Chapo" in Culiacan

As many as a thousand people marched through the streets of Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state, Wednesday in support of arrested Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

El Chapo's supporters march in Culiacan Wednesday (www.blick.ch)

They called for his release from a Mexican prison and for him not to be extradited to the United States. Many of them said he provided employment in poor areas of the nearby Sierra Madre mountains and that his group had provided security for residents.

Many were dressed in white, holding signs with messages that included "Don't Extradite El Chapo," "We Want Chapo Freed," and "Sinaloa Supports You, Chapo."

"The government doesn't give any job opportunities," said Daniel Garcia, an unemployed 20-year-old. "The situation is, honestly, really difficult and he helps out the young people, giving them jobs."

"We support 'Chapo' Guzman because he is the one who gives us jobs and helps out in the mountains," said Pedro Ramirez, who was part of a group of 300 who had travelled from Badiraguato, a town in the Sierra Madre where Guzman was born 56 years ago.

Another demonstrator said he trusted Guzman more than any elected official.

The obvious question, of course, is how did this demonstration come about? Going back to Pablo Escobar in Colombia, drug traffickers have sought and won popular support by providing jobs, services, and facilities to communities where they operate. Mexican traffickers have done the same thing, hosting children's parties and building soccer stadiums and the like.

Was this a spontaneous outpouring of support for Sinaloa's most famous son? Or did El Chapo's buddies buy themselves a demonstration? In either case, the power of the cartels to mobilize popular support should not be underestimated.

Location: 
Culiacan
Mexico

Chronicle AM -- February 26, 2014

A Maryland police chief embarrasses himself with bogus marijuana death claims, welfare drug testing bills face challenges in the Deep South, a hemp bill advances in Indiana, Russia's drug czar says "nyet" to legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Maryland Decriminalization, Legalization Bills Get Hearing; Police Chief Cites Hoax Story About Pot Overdose Deaths. Sen. Robert Zirkin's (D-Baltimore) Senate Bill 364, which would decriminalize marijuana possession, and Sen. Jamie Raskin's (D-Montgomery County) Senate Bill 658, which would legalize marijuana, got hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. Law enforcement opposed the bills, while leaders of the ACLU and NORML members supported it. The lowlight of the hearing was Annapolis Police Chief Michael Pristoop's testimony mentioning an article about 37 overdose deaths the day marijuana became legal in Colorado. After being called out for repeating the hoax story by Sen. Raskin, Pristoop quickly backtracked.

Iowa Semi-Decriminalization Bill Introduced. A bill that would remove the possibility of jail time for possession of less than an ounce and a half of marijuana has been introduced by Rep. Bruce Hunter (D-Des Moines). It's not a true decriminalization bill because it would keep simple possession as a misdemeanor offense. House File 2313 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. Click on the link to read the bill.

Texas Poll Finds Near Majority for Legalization. Almost half -- 49% -- of Texans surveyed in a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll support legalizing weed in either small quantities (32%) or any quantity (17%). Another 28% supported legalization only for medical purposes, while only 23% opposed any form of legalization.

New York Poll Finds Majority Oppose Legalization. A new Siena poll has support for legalization at only 43%, with 53% opposed. That contrasts with a recent Q Poll that had New Yorkers supporting legalization 57% to 39%. Differences in the questions asked and the margin of error in the polls may account for the difference. Or New Yorkers are conflicted.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. A bill that would allow for the trial use of high CBD cannabis oil to treat childhood epileptic seizures was approved by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday. Senate Bill 124 now heads for the Senate floor.

Hemp

Hemp Bill Advances in Indiana. A bill to legalize the production of industrial hemp passed the House Agriculture Committee Tuesday and now heads for the House floor. The bill is Senate Bill 357. It has already passed the Senate.

Drug Testing

Welfare Drug Testing Bill Advances in Georgia. A bill that would require food stamp and welfare recipients to undergo drug testing upon "reasonable suspicion" passed the House Judiciary Committee Monday. House Bill 772 now moves to the House floor.

Welfare Drug Testing Bill Stalls in Alabama Senate. A bill requiring drug testing of some welfare applicants hit a roadblock in the Senate Tuesday when Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) adjourned the body after Democrats began fighting the bill. Senate Bill 63 would require drug testing of any applicant with a drug conviction in the last five years. It is just one of five bills in the Republican agenda to tighten regulations for public assistance.

Sentencing

West Virginia Senate Approves Draconian Drug Sentencing Bill. A bill that would increase the penalty for bringing drugs into West Virginia from one year to up to 15 years passed the Senate Monday. It now goes to the House.

International

Russian Drug Czar Rules Out Marijuana Legalization, Methadone Maintenance. The head of Russia's Federal Drug Control Service has called marijuana a dangerous gateway drug and said the authorities did not plan to legalize it, or to allow methadone treatment for heroin addicts. "Marijuana users have a 50 or 60 times higher risk of switching to heroin. There is one step from dope to heroin," Viktor Ivanov said in an interview with the Interfax news agency. He completely ruled out legalization, saying it was too risky in an advanced society. "Today we live in the age of high technology, a lot of things are managed with the help of computer systems. Someone who works at a nuclear power plant can wreak real havoc after smoking marijuana," he said. Ivanov also scoffed at needle exchange and methadone maintenance, saying there was little reliable evidence methadone maintenance worked. [Ed: Ivanov must have missed the entirety large body of research done on both needle exchange and methadone maintenance, which has found them to be effective and of paramount importance.]

Colombia's FARC Calls for Dismantling Drug-Paramilitary Nexus. Colombia's FARC guerrilla army called Tuesday for the dismantling of drug and paramilitary organizations it said were embedded within the Colombian state. The call was part of the FARC's six-point program to deal with the drug issue in the country, which is the fourth item on the agenda of peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government.

British Chief Constable Says Give Heroin to Addicts. Mike Barton, Chief Constable for Dunham Constabulary, is calling for heroin maintenance for addicts. Such a move would "take money out of drug dealers' pockets," he said, adding that it "isn't practical" to simply arrest addicts. His comments come in a BBC documentary in which he went to Copenhagen to visit drug consumption rooms there.

The Capture of El Chapo: A Capo Gone, But the Trade Goes On [FEATURE]

Special to the Chronicle by Bernd Debusmann, Jr., who is currently studying for an MA in International Journalism at City University London. Prior to that, he lived and worked in his native Mexico, most of it as a full-time freelancer for Reuters TV, also contributing to Fox Latino. Earlier he worked as a reporter in New York City and as a freelance producer for the Reuters Latin American Television Desk in Washington DC, during which time he dealt with many drug trafficking stories. During 2010 and 2011 he authored the weekly Mexico Drug War Update published by this newsletter, available in our Mexican Drug War archive section.

At around 06:40 on the morning of Saturday, February 22nd, Mexican marines and police officers arrested Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman at a condominium in the Pacific resort town of Mazatlan. Without a doubt, Guzman is the most significant organized criminal captured or killed since the current Mexican drug war began in December 2006. But what effect will his capture have on the violence in Mexico and the flow of drugs to American consumers? Not much.

El Chapo in the custody of Mexican Marines Saturday (sedena.gob.mx)
Guzman was widely regarded as the world's most powerful drug trafficker, and his aggressive organization has been a significant contributor to the violence that has gripped Mexico in recent years. This is especially true in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, where the Sinaloa Cartel's bloody and drawn-out takeover of the access routes to the US drug market left thousands dead over the course of a three year orgy of violence.

Since his January 2001 escape from prison, Guzman turned into a mythic figure, Mexico's answer to Osama bin Laden. For much of his administration, former president Felipe Calderon was dogged by accusations that he was protecting Guzman, and ridiculed for not being able to find him. In February 2013, the Chicago Crime Commission named him "Public Enemy #1" for his role trafficking wholesale quantities of cocaine and heroin to the city.

Given his notoriety, Guzman's successful capture is a significant PR victory for the PRI administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto, as well as for the DEA and other American law enforcement agencies. But the victory may well prove much more symbolic than strategically meaningful.

Guzman's capture does not mean an end to the Sinaloa Cartel, a long-established and sophisticated organization whose tentacles spread across the world. The cartel is often referred to as "The Federation," of which Guzman was not the only leader. In his absence, much of the organization will likely come under the control of Ismael Zambada Garcia, aka "El Mayo," a capable and intelligent career drug trafficker considered by many to have been Guzman's equal. The organization can also count on the services of Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, aka "El Azul," a crafty former police officer well known for serving as a peacemaker between rival criminal organizations.

Another possibility is that Guzman may well be able to continue to exercise some control over the organization from inside prison, as he did the last time he was incarcerated. Mexico's prisons are notoriously corrupt, and many drug traffickers and criminals have been able to continue to direct the day-to-day operations of their organizations in relative comfort in posh cells.

Guzman's capture is very unlikely to have an effect on the overall level of violence in Mexico, and may actually lead to an increase in more bloodshed and mayhem if the Federation were to break up into rival factions fighting to fill the vacuum. Many Mexican narco-blogs are already theorizing that Guzman was given up by members of his own organization, perhaps even El Mayo himself.

This was the case after the 2009 killing of Arturo Beltran Leyva, which led violence to spike as his underlings fought amongst themselves to fill the void. It should also be noted that Beltran Leyva's organization was considered part of the Sinaloa Cartel until a violent split with Guzman in 2008, demonstrating the fickle and fluid nature of these organizations.

Another possibility is that -- sensing an opportunity -- Sinaloa Cartel rivals such as the notoriously violent Zetas will take advantage of the arrest and go on the offensive in Sinaloa's turf. This is not without precedent. In mid-2012, the Zetas, along with elements of the Beltran-Leyva organization and the Juarez Cartel, made a push into Sinaloa-controlled territory in mountains of the Sierra Madre.

By the American government's own admission, the Sinaloa Cartel has dozens -- if not hundreds -- of distribution cells across the US, as well as Europe. Additionally, the cartel is thought to have an organized logistical network across Central and South America. Guzman's arrest leaves these networks intact, and business will continue regardless of who is in charge.

That happened after the 1993 killing of Pablo Escobar in Colombia. Despite having eliminated the world's most wanted drug trafficker of the time and leaving the Medellin Cartel in tatters, the northbound flow of cocaine continued. His organization splintered into several smaller organizations, which, while being less capable of challenging the state, were more than up to the task of keeping business going at a steady pace.

Guzman was an immensely important drug trafficker with few equals and had the blood of thousands on his hands. His freedom had become an embarrassment to the Mexican government, and his eventual downfall was inevitable. But it is unlikely to have any significant impact on the flow of drugs from and through Mexico, or on the violence that continues to plague large swathes of the country.

As long as Mexican cartels can deliver the illegal commodities that American (and European) customers want, drug trafficking organizations will continue to exist. While there are very few drug traffickers currently of the same calibre as Guzman, as long as prohibition continues there will be ruthless, violent and intelligent individuals who want to profit from it. This means that there will always be a pool of people to replace men like Guzman. Only through sensible drug laws and demand reduction can these organizations be weakened and eventually driven out of business.

Mexico's El Chapo Guzman Reportedly Captured

Reports are coming out that Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the elusive head of the Sinaloa Cartel has been captured in a joint operation by US and Mexican forces.

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman--busted?
In a report this morning, Reuters cited "a US government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity" as saying he had been captured, with "a Mexican security source" saying it had happened in Mazatlan, a seaside city in Guzman's home state of Sinaloa.

But in Mexico City, presidential spokesman Eduardo Sanchez would say only that police have "captured an individual" whose identity has not yet been confirmed.

If they actually have El Chapo, this will be a huge victory for the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, which, like its predecessors, has been criticized for its inability for years to track down the head of the country's most powerful drug trafficking organization.

Many, many Mexicans (and others) believe it was not the lack of ability of the government to find Guzman, but the lack of will -- that his huge narco-wealth had protected him from capture for more than a decade since he bought his way out of prison in Mexico.

Somewhere around a hundred thousand people have died in the multi-sided Mexican drug wars in which Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel battled rival drug trafficking organizations, and the cartels fought the police and the Mexican military. (Or, sometimes, the military or the police fought for the cartels, especially Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel.)

Location: 
Mexico

Chronicle AM -- February 19, 2014

NORML endorses a US Senate candidate, pressure mounts for medical marijuana in New York, West Virginia wants to make Sudafed prescription only, and more. Let's get to it:

West Virginia cold sufferers watch out! They're coming for your Sudafed.
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Has 51% for Legalization. A poll from Arizona's Behavior Research Center has support for marijuana legalization at 51%, with 41% opposed. In recent months, other polls have showed majorities both for and against legalization.

Maine US Senate Candidate Wins NORML PAC Endorsement. NORML PAC, NORML's political campaign arm, has endorsed Shenna Bellows in her campaign to represent Maine in the US Senate. "Shenna Bellows has been at the forefront of the fight for marijuana legalization even before beginning this campaign," stated NORML PAC Manager Erik Altieri, "During her tenure leading the Maine ACLU, Shenna has demonstrated she has the skill and determination to fight for sensible reforms and has proven to be a vocal and articulate leader in calling for the end of marijuana prohibition. We believe she will be invaluable in the United States Senate to help move the country away from our failed war on marijuana and towards a new, smarter approach." Bellows is seeking the Democratic Party nomination.

Medical Marijuana

Almost Nine Out of Ten New Yorkers Support Medical Marijuana, Poll Finds.A new Quinnipiac poll has support for medical marijuana at 88%, with only 9% opposed. The poll also had a 57% majority for marijuana legalization. Click on the link for more poll details.

Two New York GOP State Senators Announce Support for Medical Marijuana Bill. Two Republican state senators, George Maziarz (R-Newfane) and Mark Grisanti (R-IP-Buffalo), have announced their support for the pending medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Care Act. They are the first Republicans to do so. The Compassionate Care Act has passed the Assembly four times, and Governor Cuomo's administration has said the governor would sign it, but the legislation has long been stuck in the Senate.

Oregon Bill to Block Cities and Counties from Banning Dispensaries Passes Senate. The Oregon Senate Tuesday passed Senate Bill 1531, which would let cities and counties regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, but not ban them. A number of cities have already passed ordinances banning dispensaries before a new state law allowing them goes into effect next month, and the Association of Oregon Cities is threatening to sue if the bill passes. It now goes to the House.

New Mexico Patient Survey Finds Program Not Providing Enough Medical Marijuana. A state Department of Health survey of patients enrolled in the state's medical marijuana program finds that only about 20% of patient demand is being met through legal channels. Licensed growers are producing about 2,250 pounds a year, but the survey put the annual demand from patients at more than 11,000 pounds. The Health Department is now "weighing its options about whether to increase production" and whether to increase the number of producers or the number of plants each can produce, a spokesman said.

Drug Testing

Indiana Food Stamp Drug Test Bill Now Targets Only Those With Misdemeanor Drug Convictions. A bill that would have required drug screening for all food stamp applicants and drug testing for those deemed likely to be using has been amended to now apply only to people who have misdemeanor drug convictions in the past 10 years. (People with drug felonies are ineligible for food stamps under a federal law that Indiana has not opted out of.) House Bill 1351 passed the Senate Health and Provider Services Committee after being amended. It has already passed the House.

Methamphetamine

Bill Making Sudafed Prescription-Only Passes West Virginia Senate. A bill that would make access to OTC cold medications containing pseudoephedrine available by prescription only passed the state Senate Tuesday. Senate Bill 6 now goes to the House. The measure is aimed at reducing the number of meth labs in the state, although it has had only temporary effects in the other two states where it has been adopted. Pseudoephredrine is a precursor chemical in meth manufacture.

International

Georgia to Ban Synthetic Cannabinoid Chemicals. Georgian Minister of Labor, Health and Social Affairs Davit Sergeenko said Wednesday a law on criminalizing the basic biochemical formulas used to create synthetic cannabis has been almost completed. "From now on, these substances will be considered as illegal and all the control mechanisms and limits that are set on other legal or illegal drugs will be valid for synthetic cannabis too," Sergeenko said.

Myanmar Extends Opium Crop Substitution Program in Northern Shan State. The Myanmar government, working in cooperation with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, is extending its crop substitution program for poppy farmers in Northern Shan State. The idea is to increase farmers' food security in areas where eradication has taken place. Last year, Myanmar eradicated about one-fifth of the estimated poppy crop.

(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 -- February 11, 2014

California's narcs are whining about Obama's marijuana remarks, Coloradans seem happy with legalization, a Good Samaritan overdose bill is filed in Maryland, an Israeli newspaper talks pot policy, and a Colombian FARC representative lays out the guerrilla's drug proposals, and more. Let's get to it:

Coca plants. The FARC has plans for them. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization More Popular Than Ever in Colorado. A year after marijuana possession became legal in the state and a month after retail marijuana sales began, Coloradans are more supportive than legalization than ever, according to a new poll. A Quinnipiac poll released Monday had support for legalization at 58%, three points higher than 55% who actually voted for it in November 2012. And 73% said they wouldn't mind if their neighbors grew marijuana in their homes.

California Narcs Unhappy With Obama Marijuana Comments. California's narcs are displeased with President Obama's recent remarks suggesting that marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol. In an open letter Monday, the California Narcotics Officers' Association took "strong issue" with the president's statements and warned that marijuana poses "significant risks to public health." The full text of the letter is at the link.

Wyoming Activists "Walk for Weed" at State Capitol. Several dozen marijuana legalization activists demonstrated at the state capitol in Cheyenne Monday armed with signs reading "Legalize, Not Legal Lies" and "Turning a Red State Green in 2016." The protest was an action by Wyoming NORML, which aims to put a legalization initiative on the ballot then.

North Carolina Legislator Vows to Introduce Legalization Measure. Rep. Kelly Alexander (D-Mecklenburg) said Monday he will introduce a marijuana legalization constitutional amendment when the legislature reconvenes in May. "It's an inevitable thing," he said. "Trying to stop that movement reminds me of somebody marching out to the beach, holding up their hand and saying the tide will not rise."

Medical Marijuana

Washington State Bills to Fold Medical Marijuana into Legal Marijuana System Moving. A pair of state Senate bills that would end collective gardens for medical marijuana patients advanced last Friday, while a House bill that would reduce the amount of medicine and the number of plants patients or caregivers can possess moved on Monday. Senate Bill 5887 and Senate Bill 6178 each passed 6-1 in the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor on Friday. Both were second substitute versions. House Bill 2149 passed out of the House Appropriations Committee Monday.

Georgia CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Needs Revisions, Sponsor Says. After a three-hour committee hearing Monday, state Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), the sponsor of the CBD medical marijuana bill, House Bill 885, said it needed significant revisions before it could advance in the House. The hearing included searing testimony from parents of children suffering seizures, but also from physicians who said the use of CBD cannabis oils needed more study. Another hearing is set for Thursday.

Drug Testing

Illinois Bill to Drug Test Food Stamp Recipients, General Assembly Candidates Filed. A bill that would require candidates for the state House and Senate to undergo drug testing and bar them from running if they test positive has been filed in Illinois. Rep. Bill Mitchell (R-Forsythe) said he introduced House Bill 5292 with the political candidate provision because he thinks elected officials should be held to the same standards as food stamp recipients. The bill also calls for mandatory suspicionless drug testing of food stamp recipients. Requiring drug tests of candidates for office, and requiring drug tests of public benefits recipients without individualized suspicion, have both been held unconstitutional by the federal courts.

Harm Reduction

Maryland Good Samaritan 911 Overdose Prevention Bill Proposed. Delegate Jon Cardin (D-Baltimore) today proposed a bill that would offer limited immunity for nonviolent drug possession charges if that person contacts police or emergency personnel for reports of an overdose. "While I don't condone illegal drug or alcohol use or abuse, we should make sure overdose victims are brought to safety and not allow them die out of fear of being arrested," said Cardin in a statement. "There is strong evidence that overdose victims and their friends would often rather let someone die than call emergency personnel. This should never happen. This law is a common sense way to literally save thousands of lives." The bill was not yet on the legislative web site as of Tuesday afternoon.

International

In-Depth Interview with FARC Representative on Colombian Guerrilla Group's Drug Policy Proposals. The Voice of Russia has recorded an extensive interview with FARC peace delegation member Laura Villa on the FARC's drug policy proposals, which begin from the premise that drug prohibition has failed. FARC policies call for respect for the coca leaf, decriminalization of the coca crop (in the context of land reform), a public health approach to drug consumption, as well as demilitarization, an end to aerial eradication, and compensation for victims of eradication. The entire interview is quite illuminating and worth the read.

Israel Hayom Debates Marijuana Legalization. Editors and contributors to Israel's largest circulation daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, debated marijuana legalization in the Holy Land. Check out the debate by clicking on the link.

Chronicle AM -- February 10, 2014

State legislatures are busy with drug policy issues, particularly marijuana and medical marijuana, a Texas grand jury refuses to indict a man who killed a cop in a no-knock drug raid, Mexican vigilantes are duking it out with the Knights Templar in Michoacan, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Southern Cannabis Reform Conference in Atlanta Next Month. Peachtree NORML is hosting a marijuana reform conference in Atlanta on March 22. Click on the title link for ticket information.

Washington Bill Would Use Marijuana Revenue to Help Fund College Tuition. A bill introduced by Sen. Mike Baumgartner (R-Spokane) to effectively cap tuition rates at state colleges and universities relies in part on expected marijuana tax revenues. The bill, House Bill 6043 is part of Baumgartner's broader plan to improve basic education and ease the tuition burden on college students.

Legalization Bill Stalls in New Mexico Senate. A bill that would let New Mexico voters decide whether to legalize marijuana is stalled -- at least for now -- in the state Senate. The Rules Committee last Friday failed to debate it, but bill sponsor Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino said he hoped the committee would take it up this week.

New Hampshire House Subcommittee Meeting on Legalization Bill Today. A House Ways and Means Committee subcommittee is discussing the revenue and regulatory aspects of a bill that would make marijuana legal and regulate it like alcohol in the Granite State. House Bill 492 would make personal possession and home cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana legal for adults age 21 and older. It would also direct the state to license and regulate marijuana retail, cultivation, production, and testing facilities. The subcommittee is expected to consider changes to the bill's proposed system for taxing and regulating marijuana. The bill has already passed the House once, but must do so again before heading to the Senate.

Los Angeles Mayor Suggests He Could Support Legalization. In an interview with a local TV station, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti suggested he could support an initiative that legalized marijuana. "[Legalizing marijuana] would make life easier to me in terms of the regulations... I think there's probably a majority of Californians that would like to see that, and I generally would be for that. I've never seen much of a difference between marijuana and alcohol... alcohol has rules around it," Garcetti said. "If we had something similar with marijuana it would probably be a good revenue generator." To listen, go to the 3:23 mark in the second video.

Hawaii Appeals Court Nixes Local Lowest Law Enforcement Priority Initiative. The Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals ruled last Friday that a voter-approved Hilo County initiative directing law enforcement to make adult personal use of marijuana on private property its lowest priority is unenforceable. The 2008 initiative won handily in Hilo, but the county council failed to implement it. Both a district court and now the appeals court have ruled that state marijuana laws preempt it. Advocates vowed to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Oregon Bill to Refer Legalization to Voters Gets Hearing Tuesday. A bill that would put a legislature-written marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot gets a hearing Tuesday. Senate Bill 1556 is set for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Bill to Let Localities Ban Dispensaries Gets Hearing Tuesday. A bill that would allow cities and counties to ban dispensaries gets a hearing Tuesday. The bill, Senate Bill 1531, will be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Colorado Patient Wins Fight to Stay in Federal Housing. A quadriplegic medical marijuana patient who was threatened with eviction from the Longmont Housing Authority has prevailed in her struggle to remain, and she has prompted the housing agency to create a new policy. Ashley Weber is that patient.

Support for Medical Marijuana in Guam at 55%. A University of Guam poll has support for medical marijuana at 55%. The poll comes as the Guam legislature considers a bill that would ask residents to vote in a referendum to approve medical marijuana.

Support for Medical Marijuana in Kentucky at 52%. The latest Bluegrass Poll has support for medical marijuana in Kentucky at 52%, with 37% opposed. Last year, the same poll had support for "prescribed" marijuana at 60%. This year's poll dropped "prescribed," and that accounted for the difference, said pollster Jay Leve of SurveyUSA. A CBD medical marijuana bill is currently before the legislature.

Support for Medical Marijuana Amendment in Florida at 57%. A Gravis Marketing poll has support for the state's medical marijuana initiative at 57%, with 31% opposed. But support dropped dramatically when voters were reminded that the production and sale of marijuana remained illegal under federal law, with 54% opposing, 27% supporting, and 19% uncertain.

Arizona Officials Propose Easing Rules. State health officials are proposing changes for Arizona's medical marijuana program, including one that would allow additional permit holders to grow their own. Click here to check out the proposed draft rules.

Wisconsin CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Hearing Wednesday. A bill that would allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil gets a hearing in the Assembly Committee on Children and Families Wednesday. The bill, Assembly Bill 726, has three Republican cosponsors, but faces other hostile Republican legislators.

Methamphetamine

South Dakota Bill to Add State to National Monitoring System Passes Senate. A bill that would add South Dakota to the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) passed the Senate last week and now heads to the House. Senate Bill 24 is supported by Attorney General Marty Jackley and other state officials. Under the bill, retailers selling pseudoephedrine (e.g. Sudafed) would electronically submit the purchaser's name, date of birth and address, along with the quantity sold at the specific time and date. [Ed: Methamphetamine manufacturing rings have gotten around pseudoephedrine purchase limits by hiring "smurfers" to buy the substance for them. It's not clear how the national database will be more effective in this regard than previous monitoring systems.]

Drug Testing

West Virginia Public Benefits Drug Testing Bill Targets Felons and Drug Offenders. Convicted felons and drug offenders would have to pass a drug test before obtaining federal or state assistance under a bill introduced in the state legislature last Thursday. House Bill 4433 would mandate that those who fail the drug tests would be ineligible to apply for assistance for two years, but that would drop to six months if they took drug treatment and passed a second drug test. The bill is before the House Judiciary Committee.

Sentencing

Missouri Criminal Code Revisions Would Cut Drug Sentences. An 1,100-page bill that revamps the state's criminal laws reduces a number of drug sentences. Marijuana possession would be reduced from up to a year in jail to no jail time for first offenders. Felony drug possession maximum sentences would drop from seven years to four. The bill has more support in the Senate than in the House, where Rep. Stanley Cox (R-Sedalia), head of the House Judiciary Committee, said he opposed using the bill to change the drug laws. The bill is Senate Bill 491.

Federal Judge Cuts Marijuana Sentences, Citing Likely Federal Sentencing Reforms. Why wait? A Tennessee federal judge last Thursday gave reduced prison sentences to three major marijuana offenders, saying he expects Congress to act to lower sentences for drug offenders. Judge Curtis Collier citing the pending approval of the Smarter Sentencing Act and recommendations from the US Sentencing Commission. The three defendants got about half the prison time they otherwise would have.

Law Enforcement

Innovative Diversion Program Underway in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Santa Fe city council has approved adoption of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program pioneered in Seattle. Instead of sending minor offenders back into the criminal justice system, LEAD offers them a chance to obtain essential wraparound services, such as housing, job training, transportation, counseling and addiction treatment -- all of which might help them stay away from crime and live a better life. The Drug Policy Alliance is credited with turning local leaders on to the program.

Utah Cops Pay $75,000 to Settle Wrong House Drug Raid Lawsuit. Salt Lake City will pay $75,000 to settle a claim filed by a 76-year-old woman after narcotics detectives raided the wrong house and pointed a gun at her. The no-knock raid in 2012 led to an immediate apology by the police chief and new leadership in the narcotics division. The claim was actually settled in November, but local media only unearthed it after filing FOIA requests.

Texas Grand Jury Refuses to Return Murder Indictment Against Home Owner Who Killed Cop in No-Knock Drug Raid. A Central Texas grand jury has refused to return a murder indictment against a Burleson County man who shot and killed sheriff's Sgt. Adam Sowders as Sowders led a group of law enforcement raiders through the door of the man's mobile home in a no-knock, pre-dawn drug raid on December 19. The raiders had a search warrant for the home of Henry Goedrich Magee and were looking for marijuana plants and guns. But when they burst through the door, Magee, who was sleeping with his girlfriend, feared a home invasion robbery, grabbed a gun from his bed side, and opened fire, killing Sowders.

International

Britain's Nick Clegg Continues Stirring the Pot on Drug Reform. Liberal Democrat leader and coalition government junior partner Nick Clegg continues to demand that drug reform be taken seriously in Britain. He penned a strong op-ed in The Observer Sunday bewailing the failures of the drug war and calling for an end to "the tradition where politicians only talk about drug reform when they have left office because they fear the political consequences."

Colombians Say Mexican Cartels are Now Cooking Their Own Cocaine. Mexican drug cartels are moving on from importing South American cocaine and are now manufacturing their own, according to Colombian authorities. The claim came after Colombian police busted a load of more than a thousand pounds of coca paste as it was being loaded on a plane to Mexico. "It's the first time we've made that kind of seizure," General Ricardo Restrepo, head of the police anti-narcotics unit, said. "If they're buying paste, it's because they have a laboratory there."

Mexican Vigilantes Take Over Cartel-Held Michoacan City. Anti-cartel vigilantes now organized as part of state police forces arrived in the Knights Templar stronghold of Apatzingan, Michoacan, on Saturday. Hundreds of vigilantes, backed by armored vehicles and army troops moved into the center of town. Searches for Knights Templar leaders and members are now reportedly underway.

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