Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Chronicle AM: Trump Offers to "Wage War" on Mexican Cartels, SD MedMJ and Legalization Initiatives, More... (11/5/19)

South Dakota medical marijuana and marijuana legalization campaigns turn in raw signatures, a California psychedelic decriminalization initiative gets updated, President Trump offers to "wage war" on Mexican drug cartels after an ambush left nine dual US-Mexican citzens dead, and more.

South Dakota's Badlands. Next year, the state could become less bad for marijuana users. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Turns in Signatures. The activist group South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws on Monday submitted more than 50,000 raw signatures to put a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana to a vote. The proposal would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for adults 21 and older and would require the legislature to pass laws regulating cultivation, processing and sale of hemp. The group needs 33,921 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 elections. State officials will announce in a matter of weeks whether the initiative has qualified.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. New Approach South Dakota, the group behind a medical marijuana initiative, handed in more than 30,000 raw signatures on Monday, nearly double the 16,691 valid voter signatures required to qualify the measure for the November 2020 ballot. State officials will announce in a matter of weeks whether the initiative has qualified.

Psychedelics

California Natural Psychedelics Initiative Refiled. Decriminalize California, the group behind a move to decriminalize psilocybin, has filed a new version of its initiative with state officials. The new version seeks a new ballot title and summary and adds language regarding amnesty for past offenses and allowing for sales of psilocybin.

Foreign Policy

In Wake of Killings of Nine Americans, Trump Says He Could Send US Military to "Wage War" on Mexican Drug Cartels. After nine dual US-Mexican citizens were killed in an ambush in Sonora on Monday, President Trump tweeted that he could send the US military into Mexico to "wage war" on drug cartels. The US was "ready, willing & able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively" if Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador asked for help, Trump said. Lopez Obrador declined the offer, but said he would speak to Trump about security cooperation between the two countries.

International

Mexican Supreme Court Gives Congress Six More Months to Legalize Marijuana. The Supreme Court has given Congress another six month to pass legislation that will legalize marijuana after Congress failed to get it done by an October 31 deadline. That means that the bill now seen as closest to the finishing line is likely to be modified. Its current version limits foreign ownership, vertical integration, and license resale, all of which are opposed by business interests. The Senate asked the court for an extension after failing to reach a consensus by the October deadline.

Philippine Drug War Critic Appointed to Key Drug Policy Role. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has appointed his main political rival and a harsh critic of his bloody drug war as co-chair of an inter-agency anti-drugs body. Vice-President Leni Robredo has criticized Duterte's tactics and expressed alarm about the death toll while saying that the deadly campaign has failed to stop the drug trade. The move could be a cynical ploy by Duterte to make her a scapegoat for the failures of his anti-drug campaign, a Robredo spokesman suggested.

Chronicle AM: Hundreds of OK Drug Prisoners Walk Free Today, USDA Publishes Interim Hemp Rules, More... (11/4/19)

Hundreds of low-level Oklahoma drug prisoners walked free today after their sentences were commuted, Michigan advances on a couple of marijuana fronts, the USDA issues interim hemp rules, and more.

Michigan is moving forward on a couple of marijuana fronts. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Now Accepting Applications for Recreational Marijuana Businesses. Nearly a year after voters approved a marijuana legalization initiative, the state is now accepting applications for recreational marijuana businesses. Applications require a non-refundable $6,000 application fee, and businesses that are approved for licenses will have to pay fees of between $1,000 and $40,000 a year. Applicants must specify if they are growers, processors, or a microbusinesses.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Medical Marijuana Board Recommends Removing THC Cap, PTSD as Qualifying Condition. The Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Board has approved a set of recommendations to the legislature including removing the 3% cap on THC in medical marijuana products and replacing it with a purchase limit of 4.5 grams of THC over 90 days. The board also recommended making PTSD a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.

Kentucky Lawmaker Prefiles Bill to Legalize Medical Marijuana. State Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Louisville) has prefiled a bill that would legalize medical marijuana. The measure would prohibit smoking of marijuana, but would allow all other forms of consumption. It would also have the industry regulated by the Department for Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Control. The state-run system would issue licenses for cultivators, dispensaries, safety facilities, processors, practitioners and patients. A similar bill last year never made it to the House floor despite winning a 16-1 vote in the House Judiciary Committee.

Michigan Reduces or Eliminates Fees for Medical Marijuana Users. The state Marijuana Regulatory Agency announced last week that it has reduced the fee for a two-year patient registry card from $60 to $40 and eliminated a $10 fee to update, replace, or add or remove a caregiver has been removed. The $25 background check processing fee for caregivers has also been eliminated.

Hemp

USDA Publishes Interim Regulations Governing the Production of Hemp. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Saturday published its final interim rule on rules and regulations for hemp production under the 2018 farm bill. The rules set forth a series of requirements for hemp producers and help clear the way for hemp production in all 46 states that have legalized it.

Sentencing

Oklahoma Commutes Sentences for Hundreds of Inmates. More than 500 state prisoners, most of them serving time for non-violent, low-level drug offenses, were granted commutations last Friday, with more than 400 of them walking out of prison today. Voters there approved a 2016 initiative that changed simple drug possession and low-level property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, and the legislature this year approved a bill to make the changes retroactive, opening the door for a fast-track commutation for those prisoners.

International

Scottish MPs Call for Drug Decriminalization. Parliament's Scottish Affairs Committee has issued a report calling for the decriminalization of personal drug use and possession. The report also called for safe injection sites to help address Scotland's record-high drug overdose levels. But the British Home Office still says it has no plans to decriminalize drug possession.

Attention, Amphibian Substance Fans, There's A New Toad in Town [FEATURE]

We've long heard about "toad venom," a secretion from the Sonoran Desert toad containing bufotenin, a psychoactive substance that's a close chemical cousin to DMT. In fact, it is currently au courant among the Brooklyn hipster set, with the New York Post recently calling it "the hottest new psychedelic drug among trendy New Yorkers."

Sapo sage Peter Gorman cruising the Amazon. (sapoinmysoul.com)
"Toad venom" derived from the Sonoran Desert toad is indeed psychedelic, but there is another "toad venom" on the scene, and the two should not be confused. This second "toad venom" comes from the Amazonian tree frog and is also known as "sapo" (Spanish for "toad"). It doesn't get you high in the traditional sense, but it reportedly has some profound mental and physical effects.

"Generally, it is an extremely physical experience, and can be intense," explained journalist Valerie Vande Panne, who has experienced a guided sapo session. "It can induce vomiting and diarrhea. Physically you may become incapacitated, or unable to speak, keep your balance, or move quickly or accurately, which is why you should never be alone and without proper support.

"It is not something to take and relax or chill out. It can be intensely unpleasant, in fact. It is in no way psychedelic or otherwise 'trippy,'" she continued. "You may cry intensely. Afterwards, you might feel a profound relief, and you may find some emotional, spiritual, physical, or other kinds of issues or blockages in your life have been alleviated." 

We know about sapo largely thanks to the efforts of one man: author and journalist and de facto ethno-botanist, and social anthropologist Peter Gorman. A former editor of High Times, Gorman has been traveling to the Peruvian Amazon for decades, where he has lived and raised a family, meanwhile delving deep into indigenous cultures of the region and their healing medicines. His writings, especially his work at High Times, have played a crucial role with exposing Western consciousness to the healing plants and Amazonian way of life. If you've heard of ayahuasca, you can thank Gorman for that, too.

Gorman's life's work is the subject of a new documentary, More Joy Less Pain, which will premiere in New York City on November 11 at the Tribeca Screening Room.The film is a candid look at Gorman and his life with the indigenous Matsés of the Peruvian Amazon and their traditional medicines, including ayahuasca and sapo.(Tickets may be purchased here. Chronicle readers get a 50% discount using promo code 420. Seating is limited.There will be a Q & A with both Director Michael McCoy and likely Peter Gorman himself.)

"This is Peter Gorman’s field work," says legendary psychedelic guru Terence McKenna in the doc. "He seems to know more about this than anyone else."

The documentary should serve as a useful corrective for misguided and sensational media coverage of substances such as sapo and ayahuasca, as well as a closely-informed look at the cultures, traditions, and practices of the Amazon.

As for sapo itself, Vande Panne declined to go into particulars about just how it is used, saying:"I'm not going to get into the details of how to take it--this isn't a medicine to play with, or to learn to use by reading about it on the Internet or with a YouTube tutorial or via some other pop-culture special. Indigenous medicine is powerful and sacred and is wisely treated with respect. "

If you're now really curious about sapo, watch the documentary and then get in touch with Gorman (through the link posted above). He continues to bring people into the jungle to experience healing and serves as a mentor to many studying natural healing. And he continues to blow Western minds with Amazonian wisdom.

Chronicle AM: Senate Extends Protections for State MMJ Programs, PA Pot Poll, More... (11/1/19)

New South Wales ponders drug decriminalization, the Senate extends protections for state medical marijuana programs, and more.

Ice (methamphetamine). Australia's New South Wales is pondering drug decriminalization as it looks at meth use. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization, Less for State-Run Stores. A new Franklin & Marshall College poll has support for marijuana legalization at 58%, but 40% are much less likely to support it if pot would be sold in state liquor stores.

Medical Marijuana

Senate Approves Bill Protecting Medical Marijuana States from Federal Intervention. The Senate on Thursday approved a "minibus" appropriations bill covering several agencies that extends a provision protecting state medical marijuana programs from federal interference. The House has passed a version of the bill with even broader protections for all state marijuana programs, so the question now is whether the House language will be adopted in the final bill.

International

Australia's New South Wales Ponders Drug Decriminalization. The New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry into Ice (methamphetamine) will release its recommendations next week, but there are already indications that the commission will lean in the direction of harm reduction approaches, as well as drug decriminalization. The commission will reportedly also recommend pill testing at a fixed site and possibly music festivals and expanding the use of safe injection sites.

Chronicle AM: Push on Psychedelics Expands, Mexico Misses Marijuana Legalization Deadline, More... (10/31/19)

We're starting to see pot bills getting filed for next year, a push to ease laws on natural psychedelics is expanding into more cities, Mexico's marijuana legalization push hits a bump, and more.

magic mushrooms (Greenoid/Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Texas Marijuana Legalization Bill Prefiled. State Rep. Rolando Gutierrez has prefiled the "REAL Cannabis Legalization Act" ahead of the legislature's 2021 session. The bill aims to establish a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce as well as personal growing.

Wisconsin Decriminalization Bill Filed. A group of Democratic lawmakers has filed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Lawmakers said the move would attack racial disparities in marijuana law enforcement, as well as eliminating the smell of marijuana as probable cause for law enforcement to undertake searches and allowing for expungement of past pot busts.

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Lawmakers Recommend Studying How to Legalize Medical Marijuana. An interim legislative committee recommended Wednesday that the legislature advance medical marijuana legislation. The committee recommended that the legislature look to Ohio as a guide.

Psychedelics

Four More Major Cities Take Steps to Decriminalize Psychedelics. Activists in Berkeley, Chicago, Dallas, and Portland are all pushing psychedelic decriminalization measures , either through ballot initiatives or city council actions. They hope to capitalize on the momentum created by the successful campaigns to deprioritize enforcement of laws against natural psychedelics in Denver and Oakland earlier this year.

Sentencing Policy

Florida Bill to End Mandatory Minimums for Nonviolent Drug Offenses Filed. State Rep. Alex Andrade (D-Pensacola) has introduced a bill to remove mandatory minimums for drug offenses and allow a judge to decide the appropriate sentence for the individual defendant. State Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Orange Park) has filed a companion bill in the Senate. The bill would remove mandatory minimums if there was no violence involved and if the defendant had no prior felony convictions. It also increases the amount of drugs a person must be found with for that person to be charged with drug trafficking rather than just possession and allows people currently serving mandatory minimums to ask a court to reconsider their original sentences.

International

Mexico Misses Deadline for Marijuana Legalization. Mexico will not legalize marijuana by today's Supreme Court-imposed deadline, legislative leaders said earlier this week. Sen. Ricardo Monreal, head of the ruling MORENA Party's congressional delegation cited "unprecedented" lobbying pressure by companies seeking to get rich off legalization. "It was the intention to approve it on Tuesday," he continued, "but that's not going to happen." Instead, he said the bill will be discussed in "the first weeks of November."

Chronicle AM: Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances, Ukraine Marijuana Protest, More... (10/28/19)

Some Nebraskans want to see a return to increased drug testing in child welfare cases, Mexico's marijuana legalization advances but faces a delay, the INCB criticizes the Australia National Capital Territory over marijuana legalization, and more.

Drug Testing

Nebraska Committee Hears Complaints About Reduction in Child Welfare Drug Testing. State senators last Friday held a hearing about changes in state policies that have led to reduced drug testing of parents and children in child welfare and neglect cases. Under a policy adopted last year, only court-ordered testing is allowed. "Child advocates" have criticized the policy as effectively giving parents time to prepare for drug tests and are seeking a legislative fix to go back to more rigorous drug testing protocols.

International

Australia Capital Territory Marijuana Legalization Violates UN Treaties, INCB Says. The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has responded sharply to the Australian Capital Territory's move to legalize marijuana, saying the move would violate international drug control treaties. The message came in a letter from the INCB to the Australian federal government, which opposes the move. "The board has noted with concern recent reports regarding the legalization of cannabis possession, use and cultivation in small amounts in the Australian Capital Territory, effective 31 January 2020," the letter read. "The board wishes to recall that cultivation, production and distribution of cannabis for non-medical purposes is inconsistent with the provisions of the 1961 convention as amended, in particular article 4(c), which requires state parties to limit the use of narcotic drugs exclusively to medical and scientific purposes."

Finland's Government Will Consider Decriminalizing Marijuana in Response to Citizen Petition. Some 50,000 Finnish citizens have signed a petition asking for marijuana decriminalization, triggering an automatic review by Parliament. The proposal would decriminalize up to 25 grams of weed and the cultivation of up to four plants.

Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances but Will Be Slightly Delayed. A marijuana legalization bill has advanced through the congress's Justice, Health, Legislative Studies, and Public Security committees. A floor vote was originally scheduled for this week, but the bill is now being referred to a multi-party panel as legislative leaders seek to build consensus around its provisions. The bill would allow people 18 and over to use, possess, and buy marijuana from licensed dealers. People could also grow their own -- up to four plants. A Cannabis Institute would be responsible for regulating the industry. Sen. Ricardo Monreal, the ruling MORENA party's leader in the Senate, said on Saturday the delay was worth it. "I will slow it down a little," he said. "Many economic and social interests have been unleashed and I would like to do things well," he added.

Ukraine Marijuana Activists March in Kiev. Hundreds of activists representing several NGOs rallied in Kiev on Saturday calling for the legalization of medical marijuana and for the government to lift the threshold on how much marijuana one can possess without criminal penalty. Participants said they rallied to try to get the government's attention.

Chronicle AM: Bernie's Pot Policy, Beto's Drug Policy, Castro's Drug Policy, More... (10/25/19)

Democratic presidential contenders talk drug policy, a new California marijuana legalization initiative is approved for signature gathering, a Massachusetts judge partially lifts a pot vaping ban, and more.

Democratic candidates are rolling out far reaching plans for drug policy reform. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders Calls for Marijuana Legalization, Investment in Communities Harmed by Drug War. Vermont senator and Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders on Thursday released a sweeping plan for marijuana legalization that includes a $20 billion grant program for entrepreneurs of color, legalization by executive order within 100 days of taking office, and the expungement of past convictions. The proposal also envisions restricting marijuana businesses to be more like nonprofits and less like corporations, and bans tobacco companies from participating in the industry.

California Marijuana Legalization Expansion Initiative Cleared for Signature Gathering. An initiative that would broaden and deepen the legalization of marijuana in the state has been approved for signature gathering. The California Cannabis Hemp Initiative would free some state marijuana prisoners, protect personal users from regulatory and licensing requirements, limit commercial regulation to that imposed on liquor and wine, and limit retail sales tax to 10%. State analysts estimate that passage would result in reduced state and local tax revenues to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Massachusetts Judge Partially Lifts Vaping Ban to Allow for Vaping Buds. A state district court judge has altered Gov. Charlie Baker's (R) van on vaping to allow for the sale of crushed marijuana buds to resume. The move came after hearing testimony from medical marijuana patients and advocates.

Drug Policy

Beto O'Rourke Calls for Drug Decriminalization and Safe Injection Sites In New Plan. Democratic presidential contender Beto O'Rourke on Thursday rolled out a drug policy plan calling for the embrace of harm reduction strategies, including safe injection sites, and decriminalizing drug possession. He said the country needs to move away from a criminal justice model and toward a public health model to deal with substance use and addiction.

Julián Castro Calls for Marijuana Legalization and Expungements in New Criminal Justice Plan. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and Democratic presidential contender has called for marijuana legalization and expungement of prior pot arrests as part of his criminal justice plan. He is also calling to "end the War on Drugs" and "address the opioid crisis and other challenges of drug addiction as primarily public health issues, not seek to further harm the and communities suffering addiction."

Drug Testing

Oklahoma Court Holds That Positive Marijuana Drug Test Did Not Prove That Marijuana Caused Accident. A machine operator whose hand was crushed at work is entitled to workmen's compensation even though he tested positive for marijuana because that test does not prove that marijuana use caused the accident, a state court judge has ruled.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. 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.)

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Louisiana narc with a pain pill habit goes down, a Texas school resource officer gets caught pilfering pain pills, and more. Let's get to it:

In Lockhart, Texas, a former Lockhart police officer was arrested Friday for stealing pain pills from a junior high school nurse's office. Chad Corbitt, who had previously served as the School Resource Officer at Lockhart Junior High School, was charged with theft of a controlled substance from a clinic. He went down after the nurse reported missing pills, and video surveillance showed him entering the office after hours in civilian clothes.

In Las Vegas, Nevada, a Las Vegas Metro Police detective was arrested Saturday after being caught with drugs in his personal vehicle. Detective Joseph Rinetti, 46, who also serves on a US Marshals Task Force, is charged with selling or transporting a controlled substance, destroying and concealing evidence and misconduct of a public officer. He's out on bail.

In Covington, Louisiana, a former St. Tammany's Parish narcotics officer was sentenced Wednesday to two years in state prison for alerting drug dealers, including one who was supplying him with oxycodone, that they were the subjects of an undercover operation by the sheriff's office. Jordan Hollenbeck was convicted of three counts of malfeasance in office.

In Rome, Georgia, a former Hays State Prison guard pleaded guilty Monday to smuggling methamphetamine and other drugs to inmates. Voltaire Peter Pierre admitted smuggling meth, cocaine, marijuana, and other drugs in soup containers and other innocuous containers, with prisoners paying him via a payment app. He copped to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, crack cocaine, and marijuana and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine on premises where a minor resides. No sentencing date was provided.

The Vaping Crisis is Real, But the Response by States Misses the Point [FEATURE]

According to the October 18 update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1,299 cases of severe lung injury associated with the use of vaping products have now been reported since cases first started appearing this summer. They've been reported in 49 states and the District of Columbia. And 26 people have died.

The update also provides this new syndrome with a name: E-cigarette or Vaping, product use Associated Lung Injury (EVALI).

In the update, the CDC notes that "all patients have reported a history of using e-cigarette, or vaping, products" and that "most patients report a history of using THC-containing products."

As EVALI cases began piling up this fall, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned consumers early this month to "stop using THC-containing vaping products and any vaping products obtained off the street." The CDC was on the same page, recommending that people "should not use e-cigarette or vaping products that contain THC," buy black market vaping or e-cig products, especially those containing THC, or modify or add any substances to e-cig and vaping products.

Something new is going on. Marijuana and nicotine vaping products have been around for more than a decade by now -- who remembers the massive Volcano vape from early in this century? -- and the most popular nicotine vaping brand, Juul, has been on the market for more than four years. Yet this wave of vaping-related illness only broke out this summer.

The culprit increasingly appears to be black market THC vaping cartridges contaminated with new additives, particularly thinners including propylene glycol (PEG), Vitamin E acetate, and medium chain triglycerides (MCT oil). The FDA has begun investigating Vitamin E acetate, while public health officials in New York have found the substance in a majority of seized vape cartridges there. The FDA also announced in August that it is proposing adding PEG as a "respiratory toxicant" in its list of harmful tobacco product ingredients.

While federal health officials have been busy trying to find the actual cause of the EVALI outbreak, elected and public health officials at the state level have typically responded with much broader restrictions on vaping products overall, especially flavored vaping products for both nicotine and marijuana.

In doing so, they are conflating two separate concerns -- youth vaping and this new vaping illness -- and coming up with responses that use the latter to take broad aim at the former. The problem with vaping illness increasingly appears to be not flavored vapes nor legal THC vapes; it's black market THC vapes using specific additives. Nonetheless, here's how governments have responded:

  • In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) last month declared a public health emergency and banned all vaping products and devices. "The use of e-cigarettes and marijuana vaping products is exploding, and we are seeing reports of serious lung illnesses, particularly in our young people," Baker said as he announced the ban. Medical marijuana patients can still vape, though.
  • In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) used emergency administrative regulatory powers to make Michigan the first state to announce a ban on flavored nicotine products. "As governor, my No. 1 priority is keeping our kids safe," Whitmer said in a statement. "And right now, companies selling vaping products are using candy flavors to hook children on nicotine and misleading claims to promote the belief that these products are safe. That ends today."
  • In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced a ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in September, citing both the outbreak of lung injury and concerns over teenage e-cig vaping. But that ban has been temporarily blocked in the courts in response to a challenge from the vaping industry.
  • In Oregon, Gov. Kathleen Brown (D) ordered a six-month ban on all flavored vaping products early this month. In a joint statement, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (which regulates marijuana) and the Oregon Health Authority said the emergency rules "are significant steps toward stemming the well-documented tide of e-cigarette use and vaping by youth, as well as keeping products that may expose people to unsafe chemicals and other contaminants off store shelves." But a state appeals court last week temporarily blocked the ban on nicotine vaping product, but not marijuana ones.
  • In Rhode Island, state health officials issued emergency health regulations at the end of September banning all flavored vaping products. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) said she was concerned about the spread of e-cigarette use among teens and wanted to end the sale of flavored vaping products.
  • In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) issued an executive order in late September banning flavored nicotine and marijuana vaping products for four months. "We need to act for the public health of our people," said Inslee. "I'm confident this executive order will save lives."

One state, though, has had a more reasoned and measured response. In Colorado, regulators this month proposed a ban not on flavored vape products or THC vape products, but one specifically targeting the additives that are in question: PEG, MCT Oil, and Vitamin E acetate. The move came after public hearings and consultations with industry stakeholders.

The plan also includes requiring labels that identify any additives to vaping products and vaping cartridge packaging for products that include additives will have to say "Not FDA Approved."

Drug reform advocates, while acknowledging the seriousness of the vaping illness, are critical of what they see as exaggerated and heavy-handed responses and suggest that the outbreak is all the more reason to legalize marijuana.

"All the vape bans really accomplish is to stoke more fear and stigma around yet another substance," Matt Sutton, director of media relations for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in an emailed statement. "What we are seeing play out right now is a real-life drama of how various substances are criminalized without justified reasoning and reliable research to do so. Taking this approach, we fail to consider the harm that may result from its removal from the marketplace, such as people turning to the black market or more harmful substances."

"Banning vapes will only stop legal vapes, with no known problems," said Dale Gieringer, long-time head of California NORML. "Illegal vapes won't be affected. There is a concerted campaign by public health officials, led by the FDA, the CDC, and the California Department of Public Health trying to demonize vaping in general, even though there's strong evidence that vaping in general is much safer than smoking, for all sorts of obvious reasons," said Gieringer. "In other countries, such as Britain, public health authorities are encouraging vaping to reduce smoking."

For concerns about vaping marijuana products, the policy prescription is obvious, said Sutton: "For THC, the issue is undoubtedly the lack of regulation, which cannot be put in place so long as it remains illegal at the federal level," he argued. "At this point, with these illnesses becoming a growing concern, it is incumbent on policymakers to legalize marijuana in the interest of public health."

For CANORML's Gieringer, the current vaping panic is just that -- a sort of moral panic that creates a demand for action, whether or not that action addresses the actual problem and whether or not that action leads to negative consequences.

"During this entire scare, teen vaping goes up and up and up, but teen smoking has gone down, down, down. There's no public health crisis evident, but the anti-smoking crowd is trying to misinform the public, and they've succeeded. Polls now show over 50 percent believe vaping is as dangerous as smoking. They've succeeded in panicking the public and misinforming it about the advantage of vaping over smoking," he argued.

"Another irony of this current hysteria is the resort to policies that ban flavored nicotine vapes when one of the attractions of vaping is flavor," said Gieringer. "Losing flavored vapes could drive people back to menthol cigarettes. If they're smart, they would at least keep menthol or some flavors on the market. The FDA could ban menthol cigarettes and smokers would go to vapes, which is a public health benefit."

Amidst all the concern about THC vaping, Gieringer had some simple advice for pot vapers: "Don't use underground products," he suggested. "There are also herbal vaporizers with no additives, just pot. And vape pens that operate on pure cannabis oil are also safe. That's the safest bet. There are a lot of reputable manufacturers who do nothing else."

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of both Drug Reporter and Drug War Chronicle.

Medical Marijuana Update

Connecticut gets more qualifying conditions, Georgia's program is stalled, Rhode Island's governor and legislature are in a court battle over who will regulate medical marijuana and hemp, and more.

Connecticut

Connecticut Lawmakers Approve New Qualifying Conditions. The General Assembly's Regulations Review Committee voted Tuesday to add five qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use by adults, including Tourette Syndrome and intractable neuropathic pain. The legislators also approved medical marijuana as a treatment for patients under age 18 with those same two conditions. The regulations now go to the Secretary of State's office, which will post them online, making them final.

Georgia

Georgia Medical Marijuana Program Stalled. Six months after Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed a bill allowing for the cultivation and sales of medical marijuana in the state, the program is stalled because he and other top political figures have yet to appoint the members of a commission that will oversee the expansion. Neither the governor nor other key figures have explained the delay.

Kansas

Kansas Lawmakers Discuss Legalizing Medical Marijuana. Legislators met in Topeka Wednesday to discuss how to advance medical marijuana in the state. The hearing is in front of the Special Committee on Federal and State Affairs and was scheduled to go all day long. Past efforts in the legislature have gone nowhere.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island Governor Files Lawsuit to Block Lawmakers from Regulating Medical Cannabis, Hemp. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) has filed a lawsuit against the General Assembly arguing that lawmakers unconstitutionally awarded themselves new powers to regulate the industry earlier this year. In the state budget, the Assembly mandated that it approve all new marijuana regulations. That's what Raimondo is objecting to.

Utah

Utah Medical Marijuana Advocates Win Round in Lawsuit Over Replacing Initiative. Medical marijuana advocates who are suing the state after the legislature replaced a voter-approved initiative with its own medical marijuana bill won an initial victory in court last Thursday. US Magistrate Judge Dustin Pead denied a motion from the attorney general's office to dismiss their lawsuit. He also accepted plaintiff's request to send the case back to state court.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: The Lancet Comes Out Hard for Drug Decriminalization, Kansas City Weed Brouhaha, More... (10/24/19)

A Kansas City city council meeting over marijuana decriminalization gets heated, a Florida poll shows good numbers for marijuana legalization, The Lancet comes out swinging on drug decriminalization, and more.

Hydrocodone. The DEA is tightening rules for opioid manufacturers. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Poll Has Strong Majority for Legalization. A new poll from the Public Opinion Research Lab has support for marijuana legalization at 64%, including 54% of Republicans. The poll comes as two different legalization initiatives are vying to get on the 2020 ballot. One of them is a constitutional amendment, which requires 60% of the vote to be approved.

Kansas City Brouhaha Over Municipal Marijuana Reform. Things got heated at the Kansas City, Missouri, city council meeting Wednesday night as a council committee unanimously passed a measure that would wipe out a municipal violation for anyone caught with 35 grams or less of marijuana after 180 days. But the proposal was originally to decriminalize up to 100 grams and was altered considerably and passed without a second public hearing, angering dozens of residents who had shown up to support the original effort. The measure goes to the full council next week.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Unveils New Rule on Opioid Manufacturers After Criticism. A proposed rule published Wednesday would even further restrict opioid manufacturing. The agency sets quotas each year for how many opioid medications manufacturers can produce in the US. The proposed new rule would require that appropriate quota reductions be made after estimating the potential for pills to be sold illegally.

International

Britain's Leading Medical Journal Comes Out for Drug Decriminalization. Medical journal The Lancet has come out hard for drug decriminalization in a special drugs issue released Wednesday. The medical profession must fight for the rights of drug users and offer them "solidarity and protection from the worst excesses of populist politics," according to an editorial introducing the issue. The editorial noted that "policies that might improve the lives of people with health problems relating to drug use are not seen as substantial vote winners."

Chronicle AM: Support for MJ Legalization Steady at 2/3, Chicago Psychedelic Resolution, More... (10/23/19)

Support for marijuana legalization holds steady at 66% in the latest Gallup poll, the Chicago city council approves a resolution on natural psychedelics, British MPs call for drug decriminalization, and more.

Support for marijuana legalization remains high, but has leveled off in this new Gallup poll.
Marijuana Policy

Gallup Poll Has Support for Legalization Steady at Two-Thirds. A new Gallup poll has support for marijuana legalization nationwide at 66%, unchanged from last year. This marks the first time in several years that support has not increased. Support for legalization has more than doubled since 2000, and had increased each year since 2013 until plateauing last year at 66%.

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Lawmakers Discuss Legalizing Medical Marijuana. Legislators met in Topeka Wednesday to discuss how to advance medical marijuana in the state. The hearing is in front of the Special Committee on Federal and State Affairs and was scheduled to go all day long. Past efforts in the legislature have gone nowhere.

Connecticut Lawmakers Approve New Qualifying Conditions. The General Assembly's Regulations Review Committee voted Tuesday to add five qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use by adults, including Tourette syndrome and intractable neuropathic pain. The legislators also approved medical marijuana as a treatment for patients under age 18 with those same two conditions. The regulations now go to the Secretary of State's office, which will post them online, making them final.

Rhode Island Governor Files Lawsuit to Block Lawmakers from Regulating Medical Cannabis, Hemp. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) has filed a lawsuit against the General Assembly arguing that lawmakers unconstitutionally awarded themselves new powers to regulate the industry earlier this year. In the state budget, the Assembly mandated that it approve all new marijuana regulations. That's what Raimondo is objecting to.

Psychedelics

Chicago City Council Approves Resolution on Psychedelics. The city council last Wednesday unanimously passed a resolution expressing support for research on the potential use of psychoactive plants and pledging support for adult use of the substances. The measure is only a resolution -- not an ordinance -- and is thus only advisory, but aldermen may propose a future ordinance to decriminalize such plants.

Drug Treatment

New York Activists Decry Delay in Addiction Treatment Bill. Demonstrators rallied outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) New York City office Tuesday to demand that he sign a bill that would expand low-income New Yorkers' access to drug treatment. The bill passed the legislature in June. Protestors held signs saying "Governor, while you wait, New Yorkers die." The bill would remove prior authorization requirements for people on Medicaid seeking medication-assisted treatment, which has shown to be effective at preventing overdose.

International

British MPs Say UK Should Consider Decriminalizing Drugs. Members of Parliament's Health and Social Care Committee said Tuesday that the government should investigate decriminalizing drug possession in a bid to reduce the rising number of overdose deaths. The committee found that UK drug policy was "clearly failing," that the level of such deaths was an "emergency," and that a "radical new approach" to drug policy was needed.

Chronicle AM: Houston Police Get New Dope Squad, MA Vaping Ban Upheld, More... (10/22/19)

A Massachusetts judge has upheld the Republican govenor's ban on vaping product sales, Houston police get a new dope squad in the wake of a botched fatal drug raid, a key Mexican lawmaker calls for drug legalization as a means of reducing violence, and more.

No vaping products for Massachusetts, a state judge rules, upholding the governor's ban. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Judge Upholds Marijuana, Tobacco Vaping Ban. Suffolk Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins ruled on Monday that the state's four-month ban on all vaping products can stand as legal challenges work their way through the courts. Wilkins wrote that lifting the ban "would contravene the public interest." Gov. Charlie Baker (R) last month announced a statewide ban on the sale of vaping products in response to lung illnesses and deaths attributed to the use of e-cigarette products.

Law Enforcement

Houston Police Get New Dope Squad in Wake of Scandal. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has announced that the department has created a new drug squad to handle high-risk warrants. The move comes months after a botched drug raid that ended with two civilians dead and one officer charged with murder. The new unit, which begins operations next month, will handle all of the narcotics division's search warrants and will assist other divisions, Acevedo said. The new unit will not handle so-called "no-knock warrants," which will be reserved for the SWAT team.

International

China Warns Citizens Living in Canada Against Consuming Legal Cannabis. The Chinese government has warned citizens living in Canada to be wary of legal marijuana. A statement released by the consulate in Calgary does not bar Chinese citizens from buying or using marijuana, but it tells them to "fully understand the harmfulness of cannabis products."

Key Mexican Lawmaker Proposes Legalizing All Drugs to Combat Cartel Violence. Mario Delgado Carrillo, the leader of the ruling MORENA Party in the Chamber of Deputies -- the Mexican equivalent of Nancy Pelosi -- has suggested that the country should legalize all drugs in order to reduce cartel-related violence. The move comes days after cartel gunmen forced the government to release the son of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa, in a series of shootouts that left eight people dead. "I think that from the events we saw in Culiacán, it is urgent to enter a process to regularize drugs -- we should start with cannabis -- make a legal framework for its regulation and legalization, and reduce this black market," Delgado Carrillo said. "It would be necessary to enter now to regularize the drug market, to eliminate these markets that give so much power to organized crime," he said.

Chronicle AM: Opioid Makers Settle with Ohio Counties, Mexico Marijuana Legalization Moves, More... (10/21/19)

A federal court says the DEA is doing what it needs to in processing marijuana research applications, more opioid makers and distributors settle and pay out over the opioid crisis, the Honduran president's brother has been convicted of drug trafficking conspiracy in New York, and more.

Fentanyl manufacturer Teva Pharmaceuticals is among four companies who just settled for millions with two Ohio counties. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Court Dismisses Suit Against DEA over Marijuana Growing Applications. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed a lawsuit against the DEA over the processing of applications for research-grade marijuana cultivators. The court found that since the case was filed in June, the DEA had fulfilled the requirement to process those applications.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Medical Marijuana Program Stalled. Six months after Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed a bill allowing for the cultivation and sales of medical marijuana in the state, the program is stalled because he and other top political figures have yet to appoint the members of a commission that will oversee the expansion. Neither the governor nor other key figures have explained the delay.

Utah Medical Marijuana Advocates Win Round in Lawsuit over Replacing Initiative. Medical marijuana advocates who are suing the state after the legislature replaced a voter-approved initiative with its own medical marijuana bill won an initial victory in court last Thursday. US Magistrate Judge Dustin Pead denied a motion from the attorney general's office to dismiss their lawsuit. He also accepted plaintiff's request to send the case back to state court.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Ohio Counties to Receive Millions in Settlement with Opioid Makers. Cuyahoga and Summit counties will receive at least $260 million from four opioid distributors and manufacturers as a settlement of their case against them for their role in the opioid epidemic. The four are drug distributors McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Cardinal Health as well as generic opioid painkiller maker Teva Pharmaceuticals. The only remaining defendant, Walgreens, did not settle, but now its case, which was set to begin Monday, is delayed.

International

Honduran President's Brother Convicted of Drug Trafficking in New York. A federal jury in New York City found former Honduran congressman Tony Hernandez guilty of a drug trafficking conspiracy. Hernandez is the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez. Early in the trial, prosecutors told the court that Tony Hernandez passed on a $1 million bribe from Sinaloa Cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to his brother during Juan Orlando Hernandez' 2013 presidential reelection campaign.

Mexican Committees Unveil Marijuana Legalization Bill Ahead of Supreme Court Deadline. Mexican Senate committees unveiled draft marijuana legalization bills last Thursday, days ahead of a Supreme Court-imposed deadline, and said they would stay in permanent session to ensure they get legislation passed before the October 31 deadline. Votes could come this week. The bill would allow people 18 and over to possess marijuana, grow up to four plants, and purchase pot from licensed retailers. A new regulatory body, the Cannabis Institute, would handle licensing and monitoring implementation of the law, and poor people, small farmers, and indigenous people would have licensing priority.

Chronicle AM: Lawrence, KS Ends Marijuana Prosecutions, El Chapo's Gunmen Free His Son in Firefight, More... (10/18/19)

The head of the Senate Banking Committee wants some changes made to the SAFE Banking Act, Kansas' Douglas County ends marijuana prosecutions, the Sinaloa Cartel battles Mexican soldiers and police to free El Chapo's son, and more.

The Mexican police and military were no match for the Sinaloa Cartel in Culicacan on Thursday. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Key GOP Senate Chairman Outlines Changes He Wants for Marijuana Banking Bill. Sen Mike Crapo (R-ID), head of the Senate Banking Committee, wants to see some changes in the SAFE Banking Act passed last month by the House. "The things we're looking at are, first of all, to make sure we improve and clarify the interstate banking application of all of this," Crapo said. "Secondly, money laundering issues with regard to legacy cash to make sure how that is managed properly. [Financial Crimes Enforcement Network] issues and other related issues. And then finally the health and safety issues about what is going to be banked."

Florida Marijuana Legalization Would Create 100,000 Jobs, Report Finds. A study from New Frontier Data finds that legalization would be a job booster for the state, creating more than 100,000 jobs by 2025. "Assuming full federal legalization, New Frontier Data estimates cannabis jobs could reach 128,587 by 2025," says John Kagia, chief knowledge officer at the DC-based research group. That's up dramatically from the state's current number of cannabis jobs, which Kagia says is at 16,792.

Kansas County Home to University of Kansas Ends Marijuana Possession Prosecutions. Douglas County, with a county seat of Lawrence, home of the University of Kansas, will no longer prosecute simple marijuana possession cases, District Attorney Charles Branson said Thursday. Branson cited changing attitudes, law enforcement priorities, and noted that pot prosecutions have "a disproportional impact upon people of color and the poor." The decision takes effect immediately.

Drug Testing

Louisiana Supreme Court Rules Unconfirmed Drug Test Can't Be Used to Deny Workers' Comp Claim. The state's highest court has ruled that an unconfirmed or unverified drug test is not sufficient to prove intoxication or fraud as a means of denying workers' compensation claims for injured workers. The court noted that state law requires verification or confirmation of any testing before disqualifying any claims.

International

Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel "Unarrests" El Chapo's Son as Security Forces Retreat. Mexican security forces captured one of imprisoned drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's sons in the cartel heartland city of Culiacan on Thursday, but were forced to release him after cartel gunmen surrounded the house where he was being held, triggered gun battles with authorities, and organized a prison break. Police said Ovidio Guzman was one of four people in a house where militarized police came under attack, but when they arrested him, cartel gunmen quickly outmatched them, and Guzman was released to prevent lives being lost, security officials said. As Guzman was being held, fighters emerged throughout the city, fighting police and soldiers in broad daylight, used burning buses as barricades, and left at least one gas station ablaze. At least two people were killed, though some reports mentioned seeing three bodies at one location.

Chronicle AM: Northeastern Governors Hold Legalization Summit, SC Judge Throws Out Civil Asset Forfeiture, More... (10/17/19)

At least five governors have marijuana on their minds this week, Canada allows marijuana edibles and vapes to go on sale, a South Carolina judge rules the state's civil asset forfeiture law unconstitutional, and more.

Marijuana is on the minds of governors in the Northeast -- and New Mexico, too. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Governors of Four Northeastern States Hold Summit to Coordinate Marijuana Legalization Plans. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) have been joined at a Thursday meeting by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) as the state chief executives discuss how best to move forward with marijuana legalization. The governors' marijuana summit is divided into five sessions: on vaping and related issues, market regulation and social justice issues, public health consequences of cannabis, public safety issues and a "best practices" panel led by Colorado representatives.

New Mexico Governor's Working Group Releases Marijuana Legalization Proposal. A working group on marijuana legalization appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) released its recommendations Wednesday. The group is recommending, among other things, the automatic expungement of past marijuana convictions, exempting medical marijuana patients from taxation, a low-income subsidy program for patients, and either a ban or a licensing requirement for home cultivation. The state will see a 30-day legislative session early next year, and the release of the recommendations could pave the way for passage of a legalization bill then.

Asset Forfeiture

South Carolina Judge Rules Civil Asset Forfeiture Unconstitutional. A South Carolina circuit court judge in Horry County has ruled the state's civil asset forfeiture law unconstitutional, in violation of the US Constitution's 4th, 5th and 14 amendments. 15th Circuit Court Judge Steven H. John found that South Carolina's forfeiture laws violate both the federal and state constitutional protections against excessive fines by allowing the government to seize unlimited amounts of cash and property that aren't proportionate to the alleged crime. The ruling sets the scene for an appeals court ruling down the road.

International

Australian Plan to Drug Test Welfare Recipients Passes First Parliamentary Hurdle. A government bill to begin a pilot program requiring welfare recipients to undergo drug tests has been approved by the lower house and is now on its way to the Senate -- where it is likely to be defeated.

Canada Legalizes Marijuana Derivatives. One year after legalizing marijuana, Canada has now finalized regulations for marijuana products such as edibles, marijuana-infused beverages, and vape products, and those products will now be available to Canadian consumers as the country moves to "Legalization 2.0."

Chronicle AM: Support for Drug Decrim at Dem Debate, PA Legalization Bill Filed, More... (10/16/19)

A pair of Pennsylvania state senators have filed a marijuana legalization bill, the Mexican Senate prepares to vote on marijuana legalization, Amnesty International rips the Philippine drug war, and more.

Andrew Yang and Beto O'Rourke both came out in support of drug decriminalization at Tuesday night's debate. (CNN screen grab)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Officials Move to Ban Three Marijuana Vaping Additives. The Marijuana Enforcement Division held a public hearing Tuesday as its moves to finalize a ban on three additives in marijuana vaping products that have been linked to the outbreak of lung illnesses among vapers. Those additives are Polyethylene glycol (PEG), Vitamin E Acetate, and Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT Oil). The proposed rules will be sent to the State Licensing Authority for approval and signature. Provided the changes are approved, they would go into effect on January 1.

Pennsylvania Senators File Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Sharif Street (D) have filed SB 350 to legalize marijuana. Under the bill, anyone 21 or over could consume the substance, consumption lounges would be allowed, and people would be allowed to grow up to 10 plants at home as long as they register and pay a $50 annual fee. Similar legalization legislation has already been introduced in the House.

Drug Policy

Two Presidential Candidates Voice Support for Drug Decriminalization at Democratic Debate. Democratic presidential contenders Andrew Yang and Beto O'Rourke both came out in favor of decriminalizing opioids during the Democratic debate Tuesday night. "We need to decriminalize opioids for personal use. We need to let this country know this is not a personal failing, this was a systemic government failing," Yang said in response to a panelist's question. "Then we need to open up safe consumption and safe injection sites around the country because they save lives." When O'Rourke was asked whether decriminalization is part of the solution to the opioid crisis, he responded: "Yes it is. For many of the reasons that Mr. Yang just described."

Foreign Policy

White House Extends Long-Lived National Emergency on Colombia Drug Trafficking. President Trump has continued a 1995 executive order declaring a national emergency regarding Colombian drug trafficking for another year. "The actions of significant narcotics traffickers centered in Colombia continue to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States and cause an extreme level of violence, corruption, and harm in the United States and abroad," he wrote in his notice. "Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency with respect to significant narcotics traffickers centered in Colombia declared in Executive Order 12978."

International

Mexico Senate Could Vote on Marijuana Legalization in Next Few Days. A key lawmaker has told Reuters the Senate will vote on a bill to legalize marijuana in the next few days. Sen. Ricardo Monreal, the Senate leader for the ruling MORENA Party, said the bill would regulate personal use and marijuana sales, as well as research into the plant. The bill also contemplates the creation of marijuana growing cooperatives. "The end of the prohibitionist policy is good for the country," Monreal said. Under a Mexican Supreme Court ruling, the government has until October 24 to legalize marijuana. If and when the measure passes the Senate, it then goes to the House, which is also controlled by the MORENA Party.

Philippine Drug War Should End Following Police Chief's Resignation, Amnesty International Says. Philippines National Police head Gen. Oscar Albayalde was forced to resign over corruption in the National Police, the lead agency prosecuting the country's bloody drug war, and now Amnesty International is calling for that campaign to end. Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International's Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia, said: "General Albayalde's resignation is the last blow to the credibility of the so-called 'war on drugs'. The Philippines authorities must ensure that justice is done and that this lawless and murderous campaign ends now. President Duterte has said that due process of law will be afforded to Albayalde -- the very rights that his government has denied to thousands of people suspected of using or selling drugs, who have been unlawfully killed by the police acting as judge, jury and executioner. This scandal shows that impunity is entrenched in the institutions supposed to uphold human rights and the rule of law. The authorities must urgently expand their probe into General Albayalde to cover the wide-ranging police abuses that continue up to this day."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. 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.)

WATCH: Mexico Cartel's Killer Clowns

Move over, Joker. Step aside, Pennywise. And get back behind the curtain, Giuliani. There's some real-life killer clowns patrolling the streets down Mexico way, and they've got video to prove it.

According to local media reports from Tamaulipas state, just across the Rio Grande River from Brownsville and Harlingen, Texas, soldiers for a major drug trafficking organization, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), and their local affiliate, Los Metros, posted a series of bragging videos in recent weeks.

Unlike too many other Mexican cartel videos that depict horrendous violence, torture, and murder (usually inflicted on rival gang members, cops, or common criminals), these videos show no savage bloodletting. But this video of cartel members wearing clown masks, waving around weapons, and generally having a good time is still downright creepy and disturbing.

See for yourself:

Clown masks notwithstanding, these guys are no laughing matter. In recent years, the CJNGC has emerged as a major player among Mexico's drug cartels and is now the leading challenger to the remnants of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel. Under the leadership of Nemesio "El Mencho" Oseguera Cervantes, the CJNG is responsible for sending tons of cocaine, meth, and fentanyl-laced heroin to the US and, according to the Justice Department, accounts for one-third of all illicit drugs being imported to the US.

As InSight Crime has noted, the CJNG emerged out of bloody intra-cartel battles for control of the lucrative drug trade" and has been associated with the use of extreme violence." Under the rubric of Matazetas (Kill Zetas), it moved into Zetas territory in the northeast of Mexico, claiming responsible for the massacre of 35 people in Veracruz in 2011.

In 2015, the CJNG raised its profile with a spectacular attack on police in Jalisco, killing 15 officers. The following month, it shot down a Mexican military helicopter, leaving five soldiers dead. Since then, the JNGC has continued on its bloody path to power and wealth, now operating in at least 22 Mexican states, with assets valued at around $20 billion.

The vast bulk of that money is coming from American drug buyers who, under a prohibition regime, are directly financing the JNGC and all the other groups involved in Mexico's delinquencia organizada. In that sense, the cartels are less killer clowns than the Frankenstein's monster of drug prohibition.

Does This State Have the Worst Drug Policies in America? [FEATURE]

With endless miles of farmland shading into ever higher and drier terrain as one moves west, crossing the Missouri River and then on to the Badlands and the Black Hills, South Dakota has a certain austere beauty. Not so in its approach to drugs. When it comes to drug policy, it is one of the ugliest places in the country.

South Dakota's Badlands. The state is a pretty bad land for drug users, too. (Creative Commons)
The staunchly conservative state holds the dubious distinction of being the only state to twice defeat a medical marijuana initiative. (Activists are giving it another shot this year -- and a more wishful legalization initiative, too.) And it is being sued by the state ACLU over the forced drug testing of toddlers and arrestees alike.

South Dakota also boasts the nation's only law making ingestion -- not possession -- of a controlled substance a felony, which helps explains the reflex resort to drug testing arrestees: A positive drug test becomes a prosecutable offense. While 10 other states have ingestion laws on the books, none of them makes it a felony.

And now, a new report from the Prison Policy Initiative finds that "South Dakota jails more people per capita than any other state," that almost "half of all arrests are drug or alcohol related, compared to just 29 percent nationally," and that people of color -- in this case, primarily Native Americans -- are disproportionately arrested at a rate far above the national average.

According to the report, South Dakota jailed 2,888 people per 100,000, nearly twice the national average of 1,506, and narrowly edging out Mississippi, which had 2,814 per 100,000. (Other states that jailed more than one out of 50 of their residents were Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.)

But jail is just the gateway to the incarceration complex, and when it comes to long-term stays behind bars, South Dakota displays the same sort of worrying numbers. According to the ACLU of South Dakota, the state's prison population has increased more than five-fold since 1980, a decade after the drug war began. And despite 2013 reforms designed to reduce the prison population, it stubbornly stays near an all-time high reached in 2017.

In fact, new prison admissions spiked upward by 49 percent between 2015 and 2018. These numbers are largely attributable to drug prosecutions, with nearly one in three prisoners doing time for drugs in 2019, up from one in four in 2014.

As the ACLU noted, "This increase was driven almost entirely by a rise in the number of people whose most serious offense was unauthorized ingestion of a controlled substance."

That's right -- South Dakota is spending millions of dollars to incarcerate people not for drug dealing, not even for drug possession, but for having used drugs and still having traces of them in their system.

And it's doing so in an alarmingly racially disproportionate manner. Native Americans make up only 7 percent of the state's population but constitute nearly one-third (31 percent) of the state prison population. Similarly, the state has a tiny African American population (2 percent), but black South Dakotans made up 8 percent of the prison population. The imprisonment rate for both African Americans and Native Americans was seven times that of the state's overwhelmingly white population. For the state's Latino population, the imprisonment rate was twice that of whites.

In a press release last month, the state ACLU reported that it's just as bad in the state's jails, with Native Americans making up roughly half of all jail admissions and accounting for the majority of all drug- and alcohol-related arrests in the state. The group noted that "Native Americans between ages 15 and 64 are incarcerated at 10 times the rate of white people in South Dakota."

"It's time to come to terms with the significant racial disparities that are so ingrained in our criminal legal system," said Libby Skarin, ACLU of South Dakota policy director. "This is not something that can be mitigated by solely reducing the number of arrests in South Dakota. Our elected officials need to acknowledge the realities of these racial disparities and commit to tackling them head-on."

State leaders grasp that there is a problem here. The state legislature has set up an interim study group to examine the state's approach to drug offenses, which met for the first time in August. The group includes legislators, law enforcement, court administrators, the South Dakota attorney general and the secretary of the Department of Corrections, but not public health officials or actual drug users.

The panel heard even more disturbing numbers about drug prosecutions. There were 2,104 people convicted of drug possession statewide so far this year, a more than four-fold increase from 2009, even though drug use levels have remained relatively stable over that period. That is leading panel members to wonder about the role of local prosecutors in generating such large increases in prosecutions.

"Though drug use is undoubtedly a serious issue, we can't incarcerate our way out of addiction," said the ACLU's Skarin. "The enormous amount of money South Dakota spends on jailing people for drug-related offenses is disproportionate and causes more harm than good to individuals struggling with addiction, their families and their communities."

It is for this reason that the ACLU says it is supporting initiatives such as "reclassifying ingestion as a misdemeanor."

Skarin explained, "Reclassifying ingestion as a misdemeanor and investing the resulting savings of state funds in diversion and treatment programs designed to combat addiction would go a long way in helping to solve the underlying problems leading to drug abuse."

Pennington County (Rapid City) public defender Eric Whitcher is on the same page as the state ACLU. He told the interim panel that 73 of his last 100 drug possession cases involved only trace or immeasurable amounts of drugs and that if such cases were not charged as felonies, his office could operate with significantly fewer felony prosecutors.

"We are an outlier," said Whitcher, speaking about South Dakota. "We are creating more felonies for the same conduct than our neighboring states. What impact does that have on their lives?"

Dropping ingestion from a felony to a misdemeanor would be a step in the right direction, but it's an awfully small step. South Dakota has a long, long way to go to get on the right side of drug policy, and no natural beauty can hide that.

Chronicle AM: Pot Vaping Bans, DEA Shrugs Shoulders at Pain Patient Complaints, More... (10/15/19)

The vaping crisis has impelled two more states to restrict marijuana vaping products, Mexican cartel gunmen kill 14 police in a bloody ambush, and more.

Hydrocodone. Pain patients are complaining over DEA cuts to opioid production quotas, but DEA is sanguine. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Regulators Prepare Ban on Certain Additives in Marijuana Vape Products. The state's Marijuana Enforcement Division has proposed final rules on vaping products that will ban a set of additives for those products. The move comes amidst the emergence of a mysterious lung disease linked to e-cigs and marijuana vape pens. The proposed prohibitions in ingredients used in marijuana concentrates or products intended for inhalation include: Polyethylene glycol (PEG); Vitamin E Acetate; and Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT Oil) -- all of which are used to thin THC oil so it can be atomized or vaporized.

Oregon Bans Flavored Marijuana Vaping Products for Six Months. Oregon has now imposed a six month ban on flavored marijuana vaping products, becoming the third state to impose a form of ban on such products since the vaping crisis unfolded. Gov. Kate Brown (D) had issued an executive order on October 4 banning the sale of all flavored vaping products; state officials filed rules last Friday putting the order into effect. The move comes after nine people fell ill in the state, with five of them having bought marijuana products in licensed stores.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Swats Away Pain Patient Complaints About Reduced Opioid Production Levels. Hundreds of chronic pain patients have implored the DEA to reconsider its proposed cuts to opioid production, which would reduce production quotas for popular opioids for the fourth year in a row, but the agency is just shrugging its shoulders. The cuts should have no impact on decisions made by doctors and "legitimate pain patients," the DEA said. "The agency does not regulate the practice of medicine. We do not get between a doctor and his or her patient," a DEA spokesperson said. "We also want legitimate pain patients, their families and caregivers to know that DEA does not seek to limit or take away their vital prescriptions."

International

Mexican Cartel Gunmen Ambush Police, Killing More than a Dozen. Gunmen of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) ambushed a police convoy in the western state of Michoacan on Monday, killing 14 police officers in one of the bloodiest attacks on security forces since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office. Photos from the scene showed burning police videos, the bodies of slain officers, and placards signed "CJNG" warning police not to support rival crime groups, such as Los Viagras.

Chronicle AM: Scottish Political Party Calls for Drug Decrim, Cannabis Cafes in Alaska, More... (10/14/19)

California will see a batch of new marijuana-related laws, Scotland's largest political party calls for drug decriminalization, and more.

Amsterdam cannabis cafe (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Signs Marijuana Tax Fairness Bill but Vetoes Cannabis in Hospitals. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has signed into law a number of marijuana-related bills, including one -- AB 37 -- that will let state-legal businesses use more tax deductions, but he vetoed a bill that would have allowed patients to use medical marijuana in hospitals and other health care facilities.

Anchorage, Alaska, to Vote on Allowing Cannabis Cafes. The Anchorage Assembly voted last week to let voters decide whether the city should allow people to smoke pot in retail locations around town. The question will be on the April 7, 2020, municipal ballot.

International

Philippines National Police Chief Resigns Amidst Drug Scandal. Gen. Oscar Albayalde, chief of the Philippines National Police, has stepped down amidst allegations that he intervened as a provincial police chief to prevent his officers from being prosecuted for allegedly selling a huge quantity of seized drugs. The National Police have led enforcement of the Philippines' bloody drug war.

Scottish National Party Formally Endorses Drug Decriminalization. Scotland's largest political party has formally endorsed the "decriminalization of possession and consumption of controlled drugs," and called on the British government to allow Scotland to make drug policy decisions for itself. The resolution was introduced at the party's annual convention, and passed unanimously.

Chronicle AM: Study Says No Long-Term Crime Rise Post-Legalization, CA Approves MedMj in Schools, More... (10/11/19)

A new study deflates one of the leading worries of marijuana legalization foes, the state of Texas abruptly quits taking medical marijuana dispensary applications, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Study Finds No Significant Change in Post-Legalization Crime Rates. A new study published by Justice Quarterly suggests that recreational marijuana legalization did not have a statistically significant impact on violent and property crime rates in Colorado and Washington. Researchers from Washington and Colorado compared pre- and post- legalization crime rates in those two states with the crime rates in 21 states "that have not legalized marijuana use for recreational or medical purposes on a large scale." They found that there was an immediate increase in property crime rates in both states, and aggravated assault rates in Washington, but those changes did not persist.

Medical Marijuana

California Governor Signs Bill Allowing Medical Marijuana at School. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has signed into law a bill that will allow parents in some school districts to bring medical marijuana to school for their children who are medical marijuana patients. The bill only allows the in-school use of non-smokeable and non-vapable forms of marijuana. Former Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed a similar bill last year.

Texas Abruptly Halts Permitting Process for New Medical Marijuana Dispensaries. Only a week after opening the application process for medical marijuana dispensaries, the state Department of Public Safety has suddenly suspended it. "The Department's Compassionate Use Program is not accepting applications at this time," it says on the department web site. The sudden announcement comes nearly a month after the state said it would keep the application process open for a month, from Oct. 1 through Nov. 1. The department did not explain why it stopped accepting applications.

Chronicle AM: New Federal Opioid Tapering Guidelines Urge Docs to Go Slow, More... (10/10/19)

HHS comes out with new guidelines for physicians on tapering patients off opioids, marijuana social equity advocates keep the pressure on Congress, Tulsi Gabbard calls for decriminalization of drug use, and more.

Marijuana social equity organizations are keeping the pressure on Congress to not stop with merely a banking bill. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, representing more than 200 organizations, sent a letter to lawmakers Tuesday calling on lawmakers to cosponsor a bill that would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. That bill is the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3884), filed by Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). The letter comes as the Leadership Conference says earlier passage of a marijuana banking bill wasn't enough. That bill was "an incremental step toward rolling back the federal war on marijuana," but that "it lacks provisions to help communities that have been historically and disproportionately devastated by United States' punitive drug laws," the letter said.

California Awards Cities $10 in Social Equity Marijuana Grants. The state Bureau of Cannabis Control has awarded $10 million to 10 cities to help build social equity programs. The two biggest recipients are Los Angeles and Oakland, which will split $3.5 million.

Drug Policy

Tulsi Gabbard Suggests Decriminalizing Drugs Like Cocaine and Heroin. Democratic presidential contender Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) suggested in an interview Tuesday that she would support the legalization of drugs such as cocaine and heroin. When asked whether sales of such substances should be illegal, she said removing criminal penalties for users is "the direction that we need to take while still criminalizing those who are traffickers and dealers of these drugs."

Sentencing Policy

California Governor Signs Sentencing Reform Bill. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has signed into law the RISE Act (SB 136), which removes a sentencing enhancement that added an extra year to an individual's base sentence for each of their prior prison or felony jail terms.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New Federal Guidelines on Tapering Tell Doctors to Go Slow. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued new guidelines for doctors on how, when, and whether to taper opioid-using patients off the drugs. The main thrust of the new guidelines is that doctors should be slow, cautious, and deliberate in reducing dosages and that they should consult with patients about how they are tolerating the process. The guidelines come after years of reaction to the prescription opioid crisis that resulted in a severe tightening of access to opioid pain medication. Many chronic pain patients and others have complained that they can no longer receive sufficient opioids for their medical needs.

International

Panama Lawmakers Debate Legalizing Medical Marijuana. Two years into a legislative effort to legalize medical marijuana, the congressional Commission on Work, Health, and Social Development took up the measure Wednesday. It still faces several legislative hurdles before becoming law. If it does, it would become the first Central American country to do so.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. 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.)

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Georgia narc gets in trouble for his sticky fingers, a Philadelphia narc uses a confiscated Porsche for his stepdaughter's prom pictures, and more. Let's get to it:

In Lawrenceville, Georgia, a former Gwinnett County deputy was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly using his position on a federal narcotics task force to steal cocaine and methamphetamine. Antoine Riggins faces federal charges of stealing cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as multiple counts of making false statements to cover up his thefts. Riggins was assigned to transport seized drugs to the evidence vault but would repeatedly take some for himself.

In Philadelphia, a Philadelphia police narcotics officer was arrested last Thursday for using a 2018 Porsche he confiscated during a drug investigation to drive his stepdaughter to take photos for her school prom. James Coolen Jr., 45, is charged with unauthorized use of an automobile and misapplication of entrusted property, both second-class misdemeanors. He resigned from the department last Wednesday to avoid being fired.

In Senath, Missouri, a Senath police officer was arrested last Friday after a traffic stop turned up meth, drug paraphernalia, and a bunch of guns. Officer Freddie Williams, 38, faces one count of class C felony possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and nine counts of class E felony unlawful use of a weapon. Williams is also the former police chief in Cardwell, Missouri.

In Springville, Alabama, a St. Clair Correctional Facility guard was arrested Tuesday after a work vehicle search found 138 grams of methamphetamine and 16 grams of heroin in his car as he came to work. Ivan Caldwell, 26, is charged with two counts of trafficking in controlled substances, promoting prison contraband, and violation of license to carry a pistol. He has resigned as a correctional officer.

Chronicle AM: UN Criticizes US Afghan Drug Lab Airstrikes, SD Moving on Hemp, More... (10/9/19)

Two UN agencies report that US airstrikes on Afghan drug labs were illegal and killed civilians, a Michigan roadside drug testing pilot program has now gone statewide, and more.

A Michigan pilot roadside drug testing program has now gone statewide. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Roadside Drug Testing Program Now Statewide. A pilot program to test drivers for a range of illicit drugs has now gone statewide, the Michigan State Police have announced. The program had been underway in five counties for the past year. It uses check swab tests to detect the presence of amphetamines, benzodiazepines, cannabis (delta 9 THC), cocaine, methamphetamines and opiates. During that first year, police arrested 89 people for impaired driving based on the test, most of them for marijuana.

Hemp

South Dakota Lawmakers Move to Legalize Hemp Over Governor's Objection. A legislative Hemp Study Committee met Monday to begin writing a bill to legalize hemp next year over the objections of Gov. Kristi Noem (R). The legislature passed a hemp bill last year, only to have Noem veto it, citing difficulties for law enforcement and fears it was a stalking horse for marijuana legalization. One issue for legislators now is whether to include CBD in hemp legalization.

Foreign Policy

UN Says US Airstrikes on Afghan Drug Labs Unlawful, Killed Civilians. A United Nations report Wednesday found that US airstrikes on Afghan drug labs killed or wounded at least 39 civilians, violating international humanitarian law since the victims were non-combatants. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the UN Human Rights Office jointly issued the report. "UNAMA has assessed that the personnel working inside the drug production facilities were not performing combat functions," the report said. "They were therefore entitled to protection from attack, and could only have lost this protection if, and for such time, as they had been directly participating in hostilities."

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