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Chronicle AM: Philly Decrim in Effect, Facebook Chides DEA, Mexico Mayhem, More (10/20/14)

New pot polls in New Hampshire and North Dakota, Philly decrim goes into effect, NYC marijuana arrests continue, Nevada senator wants heroin clinics, Massachusetts' chief justice slams mandatory minimums, Facebook sends a stern letter to DEA, mayhem continues in Mexico, and more. Let's get to it:

Cartel's deadly warning: Hacked tweet from account of murdered Mexican citizen journalist.
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Legalization Initiative Wording. It's back to the drawing board for Mary Berry and her legalization initiative. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has rejected the wording of the initiative, citing "ambiguities" in the text and telling her to "redesign" it. McDaniel has already approved the wording for two other initiatives, one for medical marijuana and one that would make it legal to grow and possess marijuana.

New Hampshire Poll Has Healthy Majority for Legalization. A new WMUR Granite State poll has 59% of respondents favoring marijuana legalization, with 35% opposed. Support for legalization is up eight percent over last year. Only 27% favored maintaining the pot prohibition status quo. New Hampshire is one of the states activists are eyeing for a legalization push in the next year or two.

North Dakota Poll Has Only 24% Supporting Legalization. In what must be one of most anti-marijuana poll results in recent years, a University of North Dakota College of Business and Public Administration poll found that more than two-thirds (68%) of respondents opposed marijuana legalization, with only 24% in favor. Even medical marijuana, which typically polls in the 70s or 80s with a generic question, garnered only 47% support. At least that's more than the 41% who opposed it. Click on the link for more poll details.

Dallas March for Legalization and Medical Marijuana. An estimated 5,000 people showed up in Dallas Saturday to rally for medical marijuana and marijuana legalization. The Dallas Marijuana March was sponsored by Dallas-Ft. Worth NORML.

New York City Marijuana Arrests Continue. In a report released today, the Marijuana Arrest Research Project finds that, despite campaign promises from Mayor Bill de Blasio, marijuana possession arrests are on track to equal or even surpass the number of arrests made under his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg. Despite a new mayor and new police commissioner, the NYPD continues its practice of making penny-ante pot arrests, especially of non-white people. Some 86% of those busted under de Blasio were black or Latino. New York State decriminalized personal possession of small amounts of marijuana in 1977, yet over the last twenty years, marijuana possession has become a top law enforcement priority, with nearly 600,000 people having been arrested under this provision in New York City alone, often as the result of an illegal search or as the result of a stop-and-frisk encounter when police demand an individual "empty their pockets," thus exposing marijuana to public view.

Marijuana Decriminalization Now in Effect in Philadelphia. As of today, getting caught with a little pot in Philadelphia will face no more than a $25 fine ($100 if caught smoking it) and, possibly, up to nine hours of community service. The city council approved the measure in June, and Mayor Michael Nutter (D) signed the bill into law October 1.

Wichita Advocates Try Again With New Decriminalization Initiative. Hoping that the second time is the charm, Kansas for Change is plotting a new municipal decriminalization initiative. An effort earlier this year came up short after more than half the signatures turned in turned out to be invalid. They will need to gather 3,000 valid signatures by February 19 to make the deadline for the April 2015 ballot.

NORML PAC Endorses Cory Booker in New Jersey US Senate Race. NORML is standing by Sen. Cory Booker (D) in his bid for reelection in New Jersey. The advocacy group's political action committee has again endorsed Booker, as it did during his 2013 election campaign. "Senator Booker kept the promises he made to champion crucial criminal justice and marijuana reform issues in his first term," said NORML PAC manager Erik Altieri. "If reelected for a full six year term this fall, he will be a strong crusader for rolling back our failed war on cannabis at the federal level. We encourage New Jersey voters to support him in his campaign."

Medical Marijuana

Guam Judge Dismisses Lawsuit; Medical Marijuana Vote to Go Ahead. A US district court judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging next month's vote on a legislative medical marijuana initiative. Attorney Howard Trapp had sued to block the vote last month on the grounds that a "legislative submission" was illegal under Guam law, but the judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying that Trapp didn't have legal standing to bring it.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Tribal Police Seize Student's Car Over Single Joint. An Arizona State University student is going public with her complaint that the Salt River Pima-Maricopa tribal police seized her vehicle over a single marijuana cigarette. The student, identified only as Kayla, said she was pulling over for a traffic infraction, admitted to having a joint, and was then arrested for possession and DUI and her car seized. The Indian tribe's laws allow for forfeiture even for minor marijuana possession. Kayla got her car back 4 ½ months later, but only because it was registered to someone else. The tribe remains unrepentant.

Heroin

Nevada State Senator Calls for Prescription Heroin Clinics. State Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) is calling for the creation of heroin clinics, where addicts could get prescribed doses of the drugs, as a means of dealing with addiction and issues associated with it. He said he will introduce a bill to that effect in the 2015 legislative session. The clinics would also provide counseling and therapy. "The goal is to get people off the street, out of the criminal element, address their addiction and then hopefully figure out a way to get them off of the drug," Segerblom said.

Sentencing

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Calls for end to Mandatory Minimums. New chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court Ralph Gants has called for the repeal of mandatory minimum sentences in his first public address since assuming the office. Gants, a former federal prosecutor, noted the "disparate impact" of such sentences on racial and ethnic minorities and challenged drug war orthodoxy. "How well is the status quo working?" he asked. "Heroin is cheaper, more easily available, and more deadly than it has been in my lifetime," he added. "Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in Massachusetts, exceeding motor vehicle accidents."

Law Enforcement

Facebook Tells DEA to Stop Creating Fake Accounts. The social media giant has sent a strongly-worded letter to the DEA telling the agency to stop creating accounts impersonating real people in its bid to catch drug criminals. The Facebook move comes after the agency was revealed to have used the identity of a real woman, including posting revealing photos of her, as part of its drug-fighting efforts. Facebook is "deeply troubled" by the incident, the letter says, especially since it violates its rules about only using real identities.

International

Mexico Social Media Cartel Watcher Kidnapped, Killed, Body Shown on Her Hacked Twitter Account. Reynosa physician Dr. Maria del Rosario Fuentes Rubio participated in social media crime watch activities, reporting on the doings of drug cartel members, and it cost her her life. She was kidnapped last week and her Twitter account hacked. A photo of her dead body appeared on it, along with a message warning others on her network to close their accounts. "Today my life has reached its end," read one hacked tweet. "I can only tell you not to make the same mistake I did," said another. The hackers also directly threatened another citizen journalist, @ValorTamaulipas, warning that "death is closer than you think."

Mexico Police Arrest Drug Gang Leader Linked to Missing Students. Mexican authorities said last Friday they had arrested Sidronio Casarrubias Salgado, head of the Guerrero Unidos drug trafficking organization. The group has been linked to the disappearance of 43 radical teachers' college students, who went missing after participating in political demonstrations in Iguala. Several mass graves have been found, but it's not clear if the bodies in them are those of the missing students. The incident has led to massive public protests and become a serious crisis for the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto. The same day Casarrubias was arrested, thousands marched in Acapulco to demand the students be found alive. Days earlier, demonstrators set fires in government buildings in the state capital of Chilpancingo.

Honduras Beefs Up Air Force for More, Better Drug War. The Honduran Air Force has purchased two combat fighters from Brazil's Embraer for $29 million and been donated four helicopters worth $36 million from Taiwan as part of an effort to step up its fight against drug traffickers. Honduran President Juan Hernandez has pledged to crack down on drug trafficking, and the Honduran Congress has given the okay to shoot down suspected drug planes transiting national air space.

Marijuana Smoke-In in Melbourne Goes Unimpeded by Police. Some 200 people gathered in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday for a marijuana reform rally that included lots of people smoking pot. Victoria State Police didn't bother to show up.

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: CA Decrim Report, Afroman's Back, Pill ODs Drop, Colombia Synthetic Drug Trade, More (10/15/14)

A report on decriminalization in California has good news, state-level marijuana legalization could be an impetus for the US to modify international drug treaties, pain pill deaths are down (but heroin deaths are up), New Zealand has a different take on employee drug testing, and more. Let's get to it:

Afroman's got a whole new positive take on "Because I Got High."
Marijuana Policy

Report: California Decriminalized, and Nothing Bad Happened. A new report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice examines California's experience with marijuana since decriminalization went into effect at the beginning of 2011. It finds that "marijuana decriminalization in California has not resulted in harmful consequences for teenagers, such as increased crime, drug overdose, driving under the influence, or school dropout. In fact, California teenagers showed improvements in all risk areas after reform." There's lots of good number-crunching and analysis. Click on the second link to read the whole thing.

Afroman Revised: Good Things Happened "Because I Got High." California rapper Afroman burned up the charts in 2001 with his catchy lamentation about the perils of being a stoned-out couch potato, but now, thanks to NORML and Weedmaps, he's back with a new version of "Because I Got High," and he's singing a different tune. He eased his glaucoma thanks to the "cannabis aroma" and he can deal with anxiety attacks without Xanax, he sings. The song's new lyrics praise the benefits of marijuana in a number of ways, all supported by scientific evidence, says NORML, which has been working with Afroman for several years. Click on the title link to view the video.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Patients Protest Over Medical Marijuana Implementation. Several dozen patients and advocates rallied outside the Department of Public Health in Boston Tuesday to call on the department and the governor to get the state's medical marijuana program moving. Voters legalized medical marijuana nearly two years ago, but: "We have zero cannabis plants in the ground to serve the patients," said Mickey Martin, a medical marijuana activist. "It's unacceptable to make patients wait." The protestors are calling for the state to immediately open up the program, get dispensaries up and running, and ease restrictions on "hardship cultivation" so more patients can grow their own.

Drug Policy

Brookings Report Sees Marijuana Legalization as Chance to Update International Drug Treaties. A report from the Brookings Center for Effective Public Management, "Marijuana Legalization is an Opportunity to Modernize International Drug Treaties," says that the Obama administration's tolerance of legal marijuana in the states creates tension with international drug control treaties and that, as state-level legalization spreads, the US should consider "narrowly crafted treaty changes" to "create space within international law for conditional legalization." The US could, for now, argue that even allowing state-level legalization is compliant with the treaties, but that argument will not hold water if legalization spreads, the authors say. Click on the report link to read the whole thing.

Opiates

Prescription Pain Reliever Deaths Drop for First Time in Years, But Heroin Deaths Up. For the first time since 1999, deaths from prescription opiates declined in 2012. The number of prescription opiate ODs quadrupled to nearly 17,000 by 2011, before dropping to 16,007 in 2012, a decline of 5%, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Federal officials are crediting crackdowns on "over-prescribing" and the expansion of prescription drug monitoring programs. The decline in prescription opiate ODs follows a tapering off of the rate of increase that began in 2006. Before that, ODs had increased at a rate of 18% a year beginning in 1999; after that, the rate of increase declined to 3% through 2011. But with the crackdowns has come an apparent shift to heroin among some prescription opiates, and with that is a rising heroin OD death toll. Heroin ODs jumped 35% from 2011 to 2012, reaching 5.927 that year.

Prescription Drugs

Pennsylvania Prescription Drug Monitoring Bill Goes to Governor's Desk. A bill that would establish a prescription drug monitoring database has passed the House. Senate Bill 1180 already passed the Senate in May, and after a pro forma housekeeping vote there, goes to the desk of Gov. Tom Corbett (R), who has said he will sign it. The legislation would track all prescriptions for Schedule II through Schedule V drugs, which is a bit too far for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. The rights groups said it had privacy concerns, and that low abuse potential Schedule V drugs should not be tracked.

Law Enforcement

"Baby Bou Bou" SWAT Raid Protestors March to Atlanta Federal Courthouse. Supporters of Bounkham "Baby Bou Bou" Phonesevahn, the Georgia toddler severely burned by a flash bang grenade during a botched SWAT drug raid, marched to the federal courthouse in Atlanta Tuesday to press for federal action in the case. A local grand jury refused to indict any of the officers involved. The group, included a lawyer for the family, met with US Attorney Sally Quillian Yates to discuss possible federal charges. Yates' office said it is considering the case.

International

New Zealand Arbitrator Throws Out Positive Marijuana Test Firing. The Employment Relations Authority has overturned the firing of a man forced to take a drug test after an anonymous caller told his employer he had been smoking pot in a parking garage. The Authority held that the company was not entitled to force the man to take a drug test. The company was ordered to pay $14,000 in damages and lost wages.

Colombia Massacre Opens Window on Black Market Synthetic Drug Trade. Eight reported drug traffickers involved in trying to dominate the trade in synthetic stimulants were gunned down outside Cali recently, and TeleSur TVhas a lengthy and interesting report on what it reveals about the fragmented nature of the drug trade there and the role of the new synthetics in it. The new drugs, such as 2CB, known colloquially as "pink cocaine," are popular with elite youth, and are now apparently being produced in-country. The lucrative trade is leading to turf wars, with the Cali killings being the most evident example.

Chronicle AM: Alaska Poll Battle, NE Anti-Heroin Campaign, NYC Psychedelic Conference, More (10/9/14)

Polls continue to split on the Alaska initiative, Illinoisans are lining up for medical marijuana, four Northeastern states unite to fight heroin, Canada's largest addiction center calls for marijuana legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

heroin (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Polls Split on Alaska Initiative. The fate of Alaska's Measure 2 legalization initiative remains up in the air. Polls this week commissioned by the opposing sides had differing results. A Dittman Research poll sponsored by the "Big Marijuana, Big Mistake, Vote No on 2" campaign has the measure losing 44% to 53%. But the Alaska Survey poll, in which the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol paid for a marijuana policy question to be asked, had the initiative winning 57% to 39%. Both polls claimed a +/- 4% margin of error, but even so, both of them can't be right. The split in polls has been evident throughout the campaign. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana

More Than 6,000 Illinoisans Have Applied for Medical Marijuana Cards. The Department of Health reported Wednesday that some 6,300 state residents have applied for permission to use medical marijuana, with cancer, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injuries being the most common health conditions mentioned. But the department also noted that the vast majority of applications were incomplete; only 800 have submitted complete applications, which include a doctor certification form and background check information. People whose applications are incomplete will be notified and then will have 21 days to complete them.

Guam Election Commission Seeks to End Legal Challenge to Medical Marijuana Initiative Vote. The commission has asked the US District Court on the island territory to dismiss the petition for a writ blocking the vote filed by local attorney Howard Trapp. Trapp has argued that the legislature cannot send an initiative to the voters, but the Election Commission and the Guam Supreme Court have already rejected his claim.

Drug Policy

Drug Czar Claims Marijuana Legalization Undermines Fight Against Opiates. In a speech yesterday in Maine, acting head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Michael Botticelli argued that the trend toward marijuana legalization is making the fight against more serious drug problems, such as the abuse of prescription opioids, more difficult. He said that early use of marijuana increases the likelihood that users will develop dependency on other drugs. "It's hard to say at one level that we want to think about prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse without looking at how to prevent kids from starting to use other substances from an early age," he said.

Heroin

Four Northeastern States Create Anti-Heroin Task Force. Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania officials Wednesday announced the formation of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Heroin Task Force (NEMA-HTF) in "an unprecedented law-enforcement collaboration to combat the growing problem of heroin distribution and abuse in communities throughout the region." Attorneys General from the four states will work together to try to repress the heroin trade. "For too long, drug organizations have tried to outmaneuver law-enforcement agencies by crossing state lines. This task force will ensure that our borders do not become our boundaries," said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. "By joining together, we can prevent defendants from using state borders as a shield from law-enforcement and allow us to shut down the pipelines and cut off the heroin supply."

Why Are We Freaking Out About Heroin? Wonkblog Asks. The Washington Post's Wonkblog has an insightful piece about the level of heroin use in the country and the public policy response it has engendered. The piece notes that "hardly anyone uses heroin" and is full of crunchy numbers and thoughtful commentary. "Overall, it's important for the public -- and particularly the media -- to keep some perspective when it comes to the numbers on heroin," the piece concludes. "It doesn't make a lot of sense to speak of 'epidemics' when use rates continue to hover somewhere between 0.1 and 0.5% of the total population. And kneejerk legislating will only make the problem worse." Click on the link for the full piece.

Psychedelics

New York City Conference on Psychedelics This Weekend. The eighth annual Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics conference will be held at Judson Memorial Church and The New School in Greenwich Village on October 11 and 12. Horizons focuses on contemporary research into the applications of psychedelics, providing an invaluable forum for experts to share ideas, insights, and to rethink the future of these drugs in science, medicine, culture, and history. This year, professors, researchers, writers and practitioners from the United States, England and Switzerland will be presenting findings and insights in the fields of neuroscience, terminal anxiety disorder, depression, hard drugs addiction, sexual orientation and identity, and more. Click on the links for more information.

International

Canada's Largest Addiction Center Calls for Marijuana Legalization. In a report issued today, Canada's largest addiction center calls for marijuana legalization with a strict regulatory approach. The recommendation is based in harm reduction principles. The Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto made the call for legalization in its report CAMH's Cannabis Policy Framework. It comes after an in-depth analysis of the health, social, and legal implications of marijuana use, as well as an examination of comparative marijuana policy, by CAMH scientists and policy experts. "Canada's current system of cannabis control is failing to prevent or reduce the harms associated with cannabis use," said Dr. Jürgen Rehm, Director of the Social and Epidemiological Research Department at CAMH. "Based on a thorough review of the evidence, we believe that legalization combined with strict regulation of cannabis is the most effective means of reducing the harms associated with its use."

Myanmar Moving Toward Reducing Drug Penalties. Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Brigadier General Kyaw Kyaw Tun has told members of parliament that the government is preparing to review sentences for drug use, which currently range from five to 15 years in prison. "Officials from the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control, the Union Attorney-General's Office and the Union Supreme Court are drawing up an amendment law," the deputy minister said. The Myanmar government has been moving to shift drug penalties since 2012.

Chronicle AM: CO MedMJ Crackdown, Heroin ODs Up, Mexican Soldiers Charged in Massacre, More (10/2/14)

A Colorado legislative panel wants to tighten up on medical marijuana, a South Carolina legislative panel studies medical marijuana, the CDC says heroin overdoses are up, a North Carolina county engages in more drug war same old-same old, and there's news from Mexico, too. Let's get to it:

cooking heroin (wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

Colorado Lawmakers Want to Crack Down on Medical Marijuana. A state legislative panel, the Marijuana Revenues Interim Committee, yesterday recommended filing legislation that would tighten up the medical marijuana caregiver system and clarify that local governments can collect taxes on recreational marijuana. The bill would require all primary caregivers to register with the state. Officials fear that their inability to track caregiver grows under the present system is helping the black market. The bill would limit caregivers to six plants per patient and limit patients to one caregiver. Medical marijuana supporters questioned why a committee charged with revenue issues was concerning itself with medical marijuana laws.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Panel Meets Today. A joint legislative panel studying the uses of medical marijuana in the state is meeting at the Medical University of South Carolina today. It's the first of three meetings to be held around the state to gather information. The state last year approved a CBD cannabis oil bill; these meetings are designed to help lawmakers gather information and refine the state's marijuana and hemp laws.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

CDC Report Says Heroin Overdose Death Rate Doubled. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that the heroin overdose death rate doubled between 2010 and 2012 in the 28 states covered in the report, but that twice as many people died from prescription opiate overdoses. The study says two things appear to be driving the increase in heroin overdoses: widespread exposure to prescription opiates and increasing rates of opiate addiction, and easier availability of heroin. Click on the link for more details.

Law Enforcement

Craven County, NC, Makes Penny-Ante Drug Roundup. After a "two-month investigation," the Craven County Narcotics Unit and the New Bern Police Narcotics Unit (CNET-the Coastal Narcotics Enforcement Team) rounded up 16 drug suspects this week, but the charges are less than impressive. Of the 16 people arrested in the big bust, five were charged only with possession of drug paraphernalia (which was also tacked onto nearly everyone else's charges, too), two were charged solely with failure to appear in court, and one was charged with possession of marijuana in jail. Five were charged with "possession with intent to sell" various drugs and one with "possession with intent to sell" marijuana. One person was charged with possession of meth precursors. Of the 16 arrested, only one was arrested on an actual drug trafficking charge.

International

Mexican Special Forces Grab Beltran-Leyva Cartel Head. Hector Beltran Leyva, head of the Beltran Leyva cartel since his brother Arturo was killed by Mexican marines in 2009, was captured at a San Miguel de Allende restaurant yesterday. It's another coup against the cartels for the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, which has also captured Sinaloa cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and at least two leaders of the feared Zetas cartel.

Three Mexican Soldiers Charged With Murder in Massacre of 22. Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam announced late Tuesday that three soldiers have been charged with homicide in the shooting deaths of 22 people killed in Mexico state on June 30. The military originally said they were cartel members who died in a shoot-out with troops, but witnesses described them being executed after surrendering. Just last week, the Defense Ministry had charged eight of the soldiers with crimes against military justice.

Chronicle AM: NFL Relaxes Marijuana Policy, Bolivia Rejects US Criticism, Aussie PM Supports MedMj, More (9/18/14)

MPP fights to get a third local Maine initiative on the ballot, Florida CBD cannabis oil growers fight for better rules, the NFL relaxes its marijuana policy, Bolivia's president rejects US claims on drugs, Australia's prime minister supports medical marijuana, and more. Let's get to it:

Bolivian President Evo Morales shrugs off US criticism of his country's drug policies. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

MPP Files Complaint to Get York, Maine, Initiative on Ballot. The Marijuana Policy Project filed a complaint yesterday in York County Superior Court seeking a temporary injunction to force the town Board of Selectmen to put a possession legalization question on the November ballot. The board has twice refused to put the matter to voters, despite petitioners gathering enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot. The complaint seeks a hearing by tomorrow. Similar initiatives are already set for Lewiston and South Portland; Portland voted to legalize it last year.

Medical Marijuana

Florida CBD Cannabis Oil Program Delayed After Growers Complain About Proposed Rules. The Department of Health's issuance of proposed rules on who could qualify for one of five licenses to grow low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana under a new state law have run into stiff opposition from potential growers. The growers have filed challenges to the rules, and now an administrative judge must deal with those challenges. He has up to 60 days to do so.

Drug Policy

NFL, Players Agree on New Drug Policy, League Eases Up on Marijuana. The league's new drug policy allows for immediate testing for the presence of human growth hormone (HGH). It also raises the acceptable level of THC found in a player's system from 15 nanograms per millileter to 35 nanograms. The change in policy will allow several suspended players to return immediately; others will see the lengths of their suspensions reduced.

Opiates

Senator Whitehouse Files Bill to Address Prescription Opiate, Heroin Use. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) yesterday introduced SB 2389, "a bill to authorize the Attorney General to award grants to address the national epidemics of prescription opioid abuse and heroin use." The next of the bill is not yet available online. The bill heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

North Carolina Conference on Heroin Set for February. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, legislators, medical professionals, law enforcement, and heroin users and people impacted by its use will hold a conference in February to discuss legislative solutions to heroin use and heroin-related drug overdoses. Click on the link for more information.

International

Irish Review Calls for Easing Drug Laws. A government study of sentencing policy has called for an easing of mandatory minimum sentences for serious drug dealing offenses, which currently stand at 10 years. The Strategic Review of Penal Policy also recommends increasing the monetary threshold that triggers serious drug dealing charges, which is currently at about $20,000. And it calls for increasing "good time" for good behavior in prison from 25% to 33%.

Bolivia Rejects US Claim It Hasn't Done Enough to Curtail Drug Production. Bolivian President Evo Morales, a coca growers' union leader, rejected the White House's designation last week of Bolivia as one of three countries (along with Burma and Venezuela) that had failed to comply with US drug policy mandates. "Whatever they do and whatever they say, or yell from the United States, the people won't be confused by this type of information," Morales said Wednesday in a speech. Although the US complains that "illegal cultivation for drug production remains high," the UNODC said in June that coca leaf production in Bolivia last year had declined 9% and was at the lowest level since 2002.

Mexico Orders 18 Black Hawk Helicopters for More Better Drug War. The Pentagon announced this week that it has awarded a $203 million contract to Sikorsky to build 18 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters for the Mexican Air Force. That contract doesn't include the cost of engine and mission systems; the total cost for supplying the choppers will be about $680 million. Mexico will use the choppers "to enhance its counter-narcotics capabilities."

Australia Prime Minister Backs Medical Marijuana. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has written in a letter to a radio host saying he is prepared to support legalizing medical marijuana. "I have no problem with the medical use of cannabis, just as I have no problem with the medical use of opiates," Abbott wrote. "If a drug is needed for a valid medicinal purpose though and is being administered safely there should be no question of its legality. And if a drug that is proven to be safe abroad is needed here, it should be available. I agree that the regulation of medicines is a thicket of complexity, bureaucracy and corporate and institutional self interest. My basic contention is that something that has been found to be safe in a reliable jurisdiction shouldn't need to be tested again here."

South Africa Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Support of Christian Democrats. The Medical Innovation Bill, which would allow for the use of medical marijuana, has gained the support of the African Christian Democratic Party. The bill was reintroduced by an Inkatha Party member last week, and the governing African National Congress Party approved letting it move forward.

Chronicle AM: Santa Fe Decriminalizes, New Drug Czar Nominated, NYC Heroin Deaths Rise, More (8/29/14)

Santa Fe decriminalizes, no medical marijuana for Alzheimer's in New Mexico, NYC heroin deaths at 10-year high, new drug czar nominated, another drug war death, and more. Let's get to it:

Michael Botticelli has been nominated to be the new head of ONDCP, the drug czar's office. (whitehousedrugpolicy.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Santa Fe Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession. In a surprise move, the Santa Fe city council voted Wednesday night to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The move came after the Drug Policy Alliance and Progress Now New Mexico undertook a successful signature drive to put a decriminalization initiative on the ballot. Rather than have it go to a vote, the city council simply approved the ordinance instead.

NORML Endorses Alaska, DC, Oregon Legalization Initiatives. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has officially endorsed all three marijuana legalization initiatives on statewide (or District-wide) ballots this fall. "NORML's board of directors endorses these cannabis legalization measures. All three support basic tenets of reform. They differ slightly in scope and implementation based on local considerations of law, customs and polled public sentiment," the group said. Both the Oregon and Alaska initiatives envision a legalize, tax, and regulate scheme, while, because of peculiarities in local law, the DC initiative only legalizes the possession and cultivation -- but not the sale and taxation of -- small amounts of marijuana.

Alaska Conference of Mayors Opposes Legalization Initiative. The Alaska Conference of Mayors announced Thursday it had voted to oppose Measure 2, the state's marijuana legalization initiative. The mayors' group is also kicking in $5,000 to the opposition campaign. The group expressed concerns over public safety, increased enforcement costs (?), and possible effects on youth.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Overrides Advisory Board, Denies Medical Marijuana for Alzeimer's. The Secretary of Health yesterday denied a petition to add Alzheimer's disease to the list of qualifying medical conditions for medical marijuana. The Medical Cannabis Advisory Board had unanimously recommended that Alzheimer's be added. Click on the link to read some reactions.

Georgia Medical Marijuana Study Committee Holds First Hearing. The Georgia Medical Cannabis Joint Study Committee held the first of five scheduled public hearings at the state capitol yesterday. The hearings are aimed at drafting legislation to allow for the use of medical marijuana for epilepsy and other conditions. Click on the link for more details.

Drug Policy

White House Nominates Acting Drug Czar to Head ONDCP. The White House has nominated acting drug czar Michael Botticelli to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Botticelli, a recovering alcoholic, has been acting drug czar since March, when his predecessor, Gil Kerlikowske, left to take over Customs and Border Protection. Prior to coming to ONDCP in 2012 to serve as Kerlikowske's deputy, he headed the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse Services.

Heroin

New York City Heroin Overdose Deaths at Ten Year High. Some 420 people in New York City died of heroin overdoses last year, the highest figure since the 438 recorded in 2003, according to data released Thursday by the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. After peaking in 2003, the number of heroin deaths declined steadily, bottoming out at 209 in 2010. Since then, they have been steadily increasing.

Law Enforcement

Armed Orlando Man Killed in SWAT Drug Raid is Year's 31st Drug War Death. Members of Orlando SWAT team serving a drug search warrant shot and killed an armed man this morning. The man, who is as yet unnamed, becomes the 31st person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year. According to the Orlando Sentinel, citing police sources, the SWAT team hit an apartment on Orange Blossom Trail about 8:00am. At least two members of the SWAT team opened fire on the man as he pointed his weapon at them.

Chronicle AM: SWAT Teams in the News, Santa Fe Decrim Init, Barcelona Cannabis Clubs (8/18/14)

SWAT teams are in the news, the RAVE Act gets critiqued as counterproductive, there will be no medical marijuana initiative in Oklahoma, but it looks like there will be a decriminalization initiative in Santa Fe, and more. Let's get to it:

Demonstration in support of Barcelona's cannabis clubs (fac.cc)
Marijuana Policy

Santa Fe, New Mexico, Decriminalization Initiative Qualifies for Ballot. The Santa Fe city clerk has determined that an initiative to decriminalize marijuana possession in the city has qualified for the November ballot. Now the city council must either vote to change the city ordinance or send the measure to the voters. This measure will eliminate jail time for the possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana and possession of marijuana paraphernalia for personal use and will result in no more than a simple $25 fine, as well as make marijuana possession the lowest priority for the Santa Fe Police Department.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Initiative Effort Will Fall Short, Organizers Concede. There will be no medical marijuana initiative in the Sooner State this year. Saturday was the deadline for handing in signatures, and organizers concede they don't have enough valid signatures. They vow to be back at next year.

Hawaii Medical Marijuana Events Slated. The Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii (cofounders of the Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii) have announced three free public events on medical marijuana policy next weekend. "Policy Perspectives on Medical Marijuana" will take place in Oahu and Hilo, while a talk session will be held in Kona. Click on the link for more details.

Law Enforcement

Georgia County Won't Pay Medical Bills for Toddler Injured in SWAT Raid. Habersham County, Georgia, says it will not pay the hospital bills for Bounkham "Baby Boo Boo" Phonesavah, the 19-month-old toddler severely burned when a SWAT team executing a drug arrest warrant threw a flash-bang grenade into his home during a May drug raid. The person the police were looking for wasn't there. Look for a civil lawsuit.

Tampa Police Review Finds No Problem With SWAT Team Killing of Man in Minor Marijuana Raid. SWAT team members acted appropriately when they shot and killed 29-year-old Jason Westcott during a May drug raid, a Tampa Police internal review has found. Police entered the residence where Westcott and a roommate were sleeping, then encountered him with a handgun in the bathroom, where they shot and killed him. Police seized less than $2 worth of marijuana at the scene. There are problems with the investigation that led to the raid, too; click on the May drug raid link to read more.

New York Governor Candidate Randy Credico Arrested, Jailed for Making Video of Cops Arresting Black Man in Subway. Randy Credico, challenger to incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo in next month's Democratic primary, was arrested and jailed for videotaping undercover transit police aggressively arresting a black man Friday afternoon. He is charged with menacing a police officer, obstructing government administration and resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. Credico has been arrested more than 20 times, mostly for civil disobedience actions or videotaping police activities.

Justice Department Ups the Ante on FedEx with New Money Laundering Charges. Federal prosecutors in San Francisco unveiled a new indictment against FedEx last Thursday that adds money laundering to a list of charges alleging that the delivery company knowingly shipped illegal prescription drugs from two online pharmacies. The company was already facing 15 conspiracy and drug charges and is looking at a fine of up to $1.6 billion if found guilty. UPS paid the feds $40 million last year to settle similar charges.

RAVE Act Has Done More Harm Than Good, Study Finds. The 2003 RAVE Act (Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act) has not reduced the drug's popularity, but has instead endangered users by hampering efforts to protect them. The law held club owners and produces criminally responsible for drug use at their events, and that made them disinclined to provide harm reduction services -- providing free bottled water of allowing groups like DanceSafe to do informational flyering or drug testing -- because that could be used as signs they were aware of drug use. "There were a lot of groups like that, and there was a lot of educational information about drugs being made available," study author University of Delaware sociologist Tammy Anderson said. "Today, clubs and promoters are reluctant to take those precautions because it could be used as evidence against them. The RAVE Act is a relic of the War on Drugs," she said. "It never worked in the past, and it's not working now." Her research was presented Sunday at the American Sociological Association annual meeting in San Francisco.

International

Vietnam Sentences Six to Death for Heroin Trafficking. A court in northern Vietnam sentenced six people to death last Thursday for trafficking Laotian heroin destined for China. The six were convicted of trafficking 240 pounds of the drug. Under Vietnamese law, the death penalty can be imposed for offenses involving as little as 3.5 ounces of heroin.

Barcelona to Shut Down Dozens of Cannabis Clubs. The city of Barcelona moved quietly last week to shut down about a third of the city's 145 cannabis clubs, citing "deficiencies" in management at nearly 50 of them. Those "deficiencies" included the illegal sale of marijuana, trying to attract non-members to their premises, and creating problems for the neighborhoods where they operate. Under Spanish law, the clubs can operate as members-only establishments where participants share their collective crops. The Spanish Federation of Cannabis Associations has asked for better regulations to avoid illegal practices.

(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 -- August 8, 2014

Things get slow in the dog days of summer, but there's still news from the legal marijuana states, California continues to grapple with regulating medical marijuana, and a couple of items from Britain suggest change could be in the air there. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Britain will provide free foil for heroin smokers in a bid to reduce injecting the drug. (wikimedia.org)
ACLU of Washington Joins Fight Against Local Marijuana Store Bans. The ACLU of Washington announced today that it is representing three state-licensed marijuana business owners who have filed a lawsuit challenging the city of Fife's ban on marijuana operations. The business owners and the ACLU argue that local bans violate I-502, the voter initiative that legalized marijuana in the state. You can view the ACLU's pleadings in the case here.

Colorado Health Department Says Teen Marijuana Use Is Down Since Dispensaries Came, Voters Approved Legalization. An annual survey of teen drug use in the state has found that marijuana use has been declining since hundreds of medical marijuana outlets opened in the state in 2009 and since the state legalized adult marijuana use and sales in late 2012. Current use among Colorado teens dropped from 24.8% in 2009 to 20% in 2013. Meanwhile, nationally, teen current use has increased, from 20.8% in 2009 to 23.4% last year.

Wichita Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Comes Up Short on Signatures. There will be no popular vote on decriminalization in Wichita this year. Election officials said that campaigners didn't have enough valid voter signatures to qualify. Although they handed in about 3,500 signatures and only needed 2,928, they still came up 180 valid voter signatures short. They say they will now press the city council to act on decriminalization.

Medical Marijuana

California Statewide Regulation Bill Goes to Assembly Appropriations Committee Next Week. The Assembly Appropriations will examine Senate Bill 1262, the law enforcement- and local government-backed bill to regulate the state's medical marijuana industry next Wednesday. That's the last day the committee meets this session. The bill has already passed the Senate, but must pass the Assembly by month's end or it dies. The bill link above may not represent the latest changes to it; new updates are expected today. The bill has divided the state's medical marijuana community, with some groups supporting it as is and some demanding changes to make it friendlier to patients and the industry.

International

British Liberal Democrats Will End Jail for Drug Possession, Nick Clegg Says. Liberal Democratic Party leader Nick Clegg has said that if the Lib Dems win the next election, they will move to abolish prison sentences for simple drug possession, even for Class A drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Half of the people currently being jailed for drug possession in Britain are being held for marijuana offenses. This call for effective decriminalization puts Clegg and the Lib Dems at odds with their governing coalition senior partners, the Tories. Meanwhile, the Home Office is currently undertaking a review of British drug policy.

British Government to Provide Foil to Heroin Users to Encourage Smoking Rather Than Injecting. In a harm reduction move, Britain will begin providing free foil to heroin users to encourage them to smoke the drug instead of injecting it. Injection drug users are more likely to contract blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. The move was approved last year by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which said it could also help move addicts toward recovery.

Chronicle AM -- June 24, 2014

Your fearless reporter has been traveling, so the schedule is off, but the drug policy news continues. Paul Stanford calls it quits in Oregon, pot shops are coming within days in Washington, an Alabama drug task needs to reconsider its priorities (or maybe the people funding it need to reconsider theirs), and more. Let's get to it:

Coming soon to a store near you -- if you live in Washington state.
Marijuana Policy

Paul Stanford Pulls Plug on Oregon CRRH Initiative. Paul Stanford, the man behind the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp legalization initiatives, announced Friday that had given up the effort to qualify for the November ballot. That leaves the New Approach Oregon initiative, which is well over 100,000 signatures. It needs some 87,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, and the campaign still has another week to get more signers.

Washington State Liquor Control Board Says First Marijuana Retail Stores Will Open July 8. The board, which is charge of legal marijuana commerce, said it will issue the first licenses July 7, but that the licensees would have to spend that first day getting their product into their store tracking programs.

Medical Marijuana

Rhode Island Legislature Amends Medical Marijuana Law. The legislature has amended the state's medical marijuana law to require national criminal background checks on all caregiver applicants and the mandatory revocation of the caregiver registry ID cards for those convicted of a felony. The bill, House Bill 7610, won final approval by the Senate last Friday. It also allows landlords not to lease to cardholders who want to grow and imposes weight, plant, and seedling limits on growing co-ops.

Collateral Consequences

Missouri Governor Signs Bill to End Food Stamp Ban for Drug Felons -- With Conditions. Gov. Jay Nixon signed into a law a bill that would allow people with drug felonies to obtain food stamps, but only if they submit to drug tests and an assessment to see if they need drug treatment, which they must enroll in and complete if they are determined to need it. The bill is Senate Bill 680. The 1996 federal welfare reform law banned drug felons from obtaining food stamps, but allowed states to opt out. By now, more than 30 have.

Opiates

Federal Bill Targeting Heroin, Prescription Opiates Filed. US Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) have filed legislation that seeks to respond to rising levels of opiate use by creating a "Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force" to develop prescribing practices that aim to ensure "proper pain management for patients, while also preventing prescription opioid abuse." Along with federal agencies such as HHS, Defense, the VA, and the DEA, the task force would include treatment providers, people from pain advocacy groups and pain professional organization, and experts in pain research and addiction research. Pain advocates will be watching carefully. The bill, Senate Bill 2504, would also provide grants to expand prescription drug monitoring programs.

Law Enforcement

Texas to Spend $1.3 Million a Week on "Border Surge" Aimed at Immigrants, Drugs. Using the influx of underage immigrants across the US-Mexican border as a jumping off point, Texas authorities announced last week they plan to spend $30 million this year tightening border security, with a major emphasis on law enforcement and cutting drug flows. Gov. Rick Perry (R) has also asked President Obama to send a thousand National Guard troops, to be joined by hundreds of Texas troopers Perry is deploying to the border. What this will mean on the ground is more troopers patrolling the highways, more surveillance, more undercover operations -- in an area already sinking under the weight of the billions spent beefing up border security since 9/11.

Alabama Drug Task Force Gets Busy With Chump Change Drug Round-Up. The West Alabama Narcotics Task Force based in Tuscaloosa arrested 24 people last Friday in a round-up that "stemmed from multiple ongoing investigations." But they were almost entirely charges like "unlawful sale of marijuana within three miles of a school" ($30,000 bond), "unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia" ($5,000 bond), and "unlawful possession of marijuana" ($15,000 bond). Only five of the charges didn't involve marijuana, and of those, three were for possession of a controlled substance, two were "unlawful sale of cocaine within three miles of a school," and one was for "interfering with government operations."

International

Vietnam Upholds Death Sentences for 29 Drug Smugglers. A Vietnamese appellate court last Thursday upheld the death sentences for 29 people convicted. The court reduced one other death sentence in the case to life in prison. The sentences came in what is Vietnam's largest heroin case ever, with 89 defendants and 1.5 tons of heroin involved.

Bolivia Coca Cultivation Drops to 11-Year Low. Coca cultivation declined 9% in Bolivia last, reaching the lowest level since 2002, according to the annual Bolivian coca survey conducted by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). This is the third straight decline, in line with the Bolivian government's commitment to reduce production to 50,000 acres by 2015. The 2013 crop was about 55,000 acres.

British Medical Association to Debate Legalizing Marijuana. Britain's largest doctors' organization will debate a motion calling on it to legalize marijuana as its Annual Representatives Meeting continues this week after a weekend hiatus. "The current law isn't working and only by adopting a different approach can we regulate, educate and exert a level of quality control," the motion says. "Cannabis use should be treated primarily as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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