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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 8, 2014

East Coast governors speak against marijuana legalization, but DC voters may get a chance to have their own voices heard; a new report on Obamacare's implications for drug reform is out; the DEA is reported to have talked to the Sinaloa Cartel; and details of a Mexico City marijuana legalization bill emerge. And more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Activists to File Marijuana Legalization Initiative This Week.The nation's capital could vote on marijuana legalization this year. Activists there plan to submit a legalization initiative to city officials by week's end. Because of quirks in District law, the initiative will not seek to allow retail marijuana sales -- that would require action by the DC city council -- but would allow adults to possess and consume marijuana and grow up to six plants.

DOJ Will Reportedly Issue Guidance on Marijuana Banking Soon. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the Justice Department will soon issue a memo with guidelines for financial institutions dealing with legal marijuana businesses. Insiders said the current draft document emphasizes that federal enforcement priorities will be directed toward those who use legal marijuana sales as a front for other criminal activity, funnel it across state lines, or sell it as part of a broader drug dealing conspiracy. But how financial institutions are supposed to know which of their marijuana customers are drawing federal interest remains unclear, suggesting that, as it stands, the draft memo will not satisfy banks.

Rhode Island Governor Calls Marijuana Legalization "Premature." Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) said Tuesday Rhode Island should wait to see how legalization plays out in Colorado and Washington before trying it there. He added that it was premature to consider legalization before seeing how the state's 2013 decriminalization law is working out.

Maryland Governor Opposes Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said Wednesday that while he was open to expanding access to medical marijuana, he opposed general legalization. "I'm not much in favor of it," he said. "We've seen what drug addiction has done to the people of our state, to the people of our city."

Oregon Legislature Could Discuss Legalization Next Month. With plans afoot to field a marijuana legalization initiative in Oregon this year, legislators are hinting they may want to take a crack at it first. Rep. Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland) told a local meeting she expects legislators to take up the issue in the session that begins February 3.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Medical Marijuana Dispensary Rules Due in Days. State officials said Tuesday that draft rules for the state's newly-regulated dispensary industry should be posted within a week. Then will come a series of public hearings before the rules are finalized. In the meantime, dispensaries will be able to operate under temporary rules, with applications accepted beginning March 3.

New York Governor's Medical Marijuana Plan "Unworkable," MPP Says. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is expected to announce an executive order allowing limited medical marijuana availability today, but the Marijuana Policy Project called Cuomo's proposal "unworkable," saying it would require the cooperation of the DEA, NIDA, and the FDA, none of which have been amenable to such projects. MPP says the solution is for the legislature to pass pending medical marijuana legalization.

Obamacare and Drug Policy

New DPA/ACLU Issue Brief Discusses Affordable Care Act's Impact on Drug Policy. A new issue brief from the Drug Policy Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union reviews provisions of the Affordable Care Act relevant to drug policy, as well as how the ACA can help recast the drug policy debate. The brief is Healthcare Not Handcuffs: Putting the Affordable Care Act to Work for Criminal Justice and Drug Policy Reform.

International

DEA Met With Sinaloa Cartel Leaders, Mexican Newspaper Says. Members of the DEA and the Justice Department met secretly with leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel to gain information about rival cartels, the Mexico City newspaper El Universal reported Monday. The meetings took place without the knowledge of Mexican officials, although US authorities on some occasions provided Mexican authorities with information derived from the meetings. The newspaper identified the DEA or Justice Department employees present at the meetings as Steve Fraga, Manuel Castañon, David Herrad and Carlos Mitchem.

CuPIHD Publishes Study of Mexico City Drug Markets. Mexico's Collective for an Integrated Drug Policy (CuPIHD) has published a quantitative and qualitative analysis of Mexico City illicit drug markets, describing the size and characteristics of the drug markets, as well as how drug users perceive and interact with their legal, economic, institutional, and social environments. The English-language version of the study is Drugs DF: The Illegal Drug Markets of Mexico City.

Draft Reveals Details of Mexico City Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Mexico City web site Animal Politico has obtained a draft of a bill being worked on by a team of leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) to advance marijuana reform in the federal district. The bill would completely decriminalize the possession of marijuana, make marijuana possession and distribution "zero priority" offenses for law enforcement, and create a system of dispensaries to sell marijuana for therapeutic reasons. The proposed bill would require changes in, or, at least, exemptions from, some existing federal laws.

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.

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.

Chronicle AM -- December 20, 2013

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

Drug Testing

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

Sentencing

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

International

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

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

Guatemala Considers Legalizing Opium Growing for Medicinal Market

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina and other government officials said repeatedly this week that they are considering legalizing and regulating opium poppy production in areas where it is already being grown illicitly.

"We started exploring the capacity that we could have for controlled planting," said Perez Molina. "What that means is that we would know exactly what extensions are being planted, what the production would be and that the sale would also be well controlled, especially for medicinal use."

Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez said the government was considering both regulated legal cultivation and alternative development.

"There are two paths, one is cultivated substitutes, and the other is the alternative which is controlled cultivation," Lopez explained. "This is what is already being done in other countries such as India and China, that is to say identifying hectares clearly, seeing how they are grown, carrying out the harvest, taking control of the commercialization and above all making sure this serves mainly the pharmaceutical industry."

Lopez noted that Guatemalan security forces have had 25 years of experience eradicating opium poppies, but that the impact had been "relative."

Guatemalan poppy production is centered in the department of San Marcos, near the Mexican border.

According to the Guatemalan media outlet Prensa Libre, the idea is one of a number of drug reform proposals made to the government by Amanda Fielding of the Beckley Foundation, a British drug reform group that established an office in Guatemala last year.

Perez Molina has been a leading, vocal advocate of reassessing the global drug prohibition framework, especially as it applies to Latin America. But this is the first time his administration has hinted at a concrete "outside the box" proposal, even if only a little outside the box.

Guatemala

Guatemala Considers Legalizing Opium Growing

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina and other government officials said repeatedly this week that they are considering legalizing and regulating opium poppy production in areas where it is already being grown illicitly.

That's something of a surprise, but perhaps it shouldn't be. According to a Guatemalan press report, the proposal is one of a group of reform recommendations made by Amanda Fielding of the Beckley Foundation, the British drug reform and legalization group, which has had an office in the country since last year. 

Perez Molina has been talking a good game about alternatives to prohibition--and he just days ago stuck up for Uruguay in the wake of criticism of its marijuana legalization--but he has yet to actually do anything dramatic. This could be it.

I'll write more about this interesting development during the daylight hours.

In the meantime, a Spanish-language article from Prensa Libre is available here.

And there's an English-language article from Newsroom Panama available here.

Location: 
Guatemala

Chronicle AM -- December 18, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Harm Reduction

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

Sentencing

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

International

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

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

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

Chronicle AM -- December 12, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Harm Reduction

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

Pain Pills

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

International

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

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

Chronicle AM -- December 9, 2013

A West Virginia man gets a first degree murder charge in his wife's accidental drug death, a Utah "Good Samaritan" overdose bill is moving, some US senators grumble about Zohydro ER, and we have a pair of stories about opiates in India. And more. Let's get to it:

Zohydro ER
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts High Court Rules against Prosecutors in Small-Time Marijuana Cases. Possession of up to an ounce of pot is decriminalized in Massachusetts, even if that less-than-an-ounce amount is divided up in separate baggies. The state Supreme Judicial Court ruled last month that possessing small amounts of marijuana in separate baggies is not sufficient evidence to charge someone with possession with intent to distribute. Prosecutors are grumbling.

Harm Reduction

Utah "Good Samaritan" Drug Overdose Bill Moving. A bill that would provide limited criminal immunity for people who report a drug overdose has passed the Criminal Justice Committee and will be taken up by the full legislature when it reconvenes next month. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Carol Spackman Moss (D-Holladay) and has the backing of harm reductionists and the Utah Statewide Association of Prosecutors alike. There were more than 500 drug overdose deaths in Utah last year.

Law Enforcement

COPS Program Worried About Police Militarization. Cop-watcher Radley Balko notes that the monthly newsletter of the Justice Department's Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) program is raising the alarm about the militarization of policing in the US. Balko cites a warning from COPS program senior policy analyst Karl Bickel: "Police chiefs and sheriffs may want to ask themselves -- if after hiring officers in the spirit of adventure, who have been exposed to action oriented police dramas since their youth, and sending them to an academy patterned after a military boot camp, then dressing them in black battle dress uniforms and turning them loose in a subculture steeped in an 'us versus them' outlook toward those they serve and protect, while prosecuting the war on crime, war on drugs, and now a war on terrorism -- is there any realistic hope of institutionalizing community policing as an operational philosophy?"

West Virginia Man Faces First Degree Murder Charge in Wife's Drug Overdose Death. Prosecutors have charged a Roane County man with first degree murder in the accidental drug overdose of his wife. Todd Honaker thought he was buying LSD, but instead gave his wife the synthetic drug 25b-NBOMe ("N-bomb"). The man who supplied the drug has been charged with delivery of a controlled substance. It's not clear why Honaker is facing such severe charges.

Pain Pills

Four Senators Scold FDA on Zohydro Approval. Four US senators have sent a letter to the FDA saying they disagree with its decision to approve Zohydro ER, a long-acting version of the pain reliever hydrocodone. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) said the decision "will only contribute to the rising toll of addiction and death" caused by the misuse of prescription drugs. Zohydro can be crushed and snorted by people seeking a strong, quick high, which the senators called "irresponsible." [Ed: As the item immediately below about pain control in India demonstrates, poorly conceived control measures can and do have a devastating impact on the lives of pain patients who end up under-medicated or un-medicated. We have this problem in the US too. Other measures than bans are needed to address prescription drug misuse -- the FDA was right to approve Zohydro.]

International

Less Than 4% of Indians Suffering From Chronic Cancer Pain Have Access to Morphine. Legal restrictions on access to opioid pain medications leave millions of Indians suffering from severe and chronic pain without access to relief, leading to an "epidemic of pain in India." Ironically, India produces 99% of the global supply of licit opium, most of which it exports.

Indian Authorities Warn of Rising Opium Cultivation in Northeast. Illicit opium production is on the rise in states such as Manipur and Nagaland, Indian drug experts said at a Saturday conference in Guwahati. Cultivation was increasing both as a cash crop and for personal consumption, the experts said. In some villages, between 60% and 90% of families were growing opium, they said.

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