Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

New Federal Legalization Bill, Houston Narcs Indicted, Peru Coca Production Up (Maybe), More... (8/3/20)

Peru and the US are in a dispute over how much coca and cocaine is produced there, Houston narcs involved in a deadly botched drug raid get indicted, and more.

How much coca and cocaine is Peru producing?
Marijuana Policy

New Senate Bill Would Legalize Marijuana Like Tobacco. Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) has filed the Substance Regulation and Safety Act (S.4386), which would deschedule marijuana and require the Department of Health and Human Services to develop regulations that treat marijuana like tobacco. The bill would also create a national research institute to study the risks and benefits of marijuana, require the Department of Agriculture to set quality control standards and require the Department of Transportation to study methods for detecting THC-impaired driving.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Law Allowing Medical Marijuana for Any Debilitating Condition Now in Effect. A new law that broadly expands access to medical marijuana has now gone into effect. The new law allows doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients for any debilitating condition. Under the state's old law, only a limited list of specified illnesses and conditions were eligible for medical marijuana.

Law Enforcement

Houston Ex-Cops in Deadly Botched Drug Raid Indicted. A Harris County grand jury has indicted six former Houston narcotics officers after their unit came under scrutiny in the wake of a 2019 raid in which an innocent pair of homeowners were killed. Prosecutors charge that the former officers falsified documentation about drug payments to confidential informants, routinely used false information to get search warrants, and lied in police reports. A total of 17 felony charges were brought against the officers, led by Gerald Goines.

International

ONDCP Releases Data on Coca Cultivation and Production in Peru. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released the results of the annual United States Government estimates measuring coca cultivation and potential cocaine production for the Republic of Peru: "Coca (the plant used to make cocaine) cultivation in Peru significantly increased to 72,000 hectares in 2019, with potential pure cocaine production of 705 metric tons… "Coca cultivation in Peru and across the Andean Region of South America remains a significant threat to the American people. That's why President Trump ordered a surge in counternarcotics operations to take the fight directly to the drug cartels. This surge has already resulted in preventing 183,521 pounds of cocaine from entering the United States, resulting in $2.1 billion in lost revenue for drug cartels. As part of its partnership with the United States, Peru must expand its efforts to curb coca cultivation and production. The Trump Administration remains committed to bringing those who profit from drug trafficking to justice with the singular goal of saving American lives," ONDCP Director Jim Carroll said.

Peru Rejects US Estimates on Increased Cocaine and Coca Leaf Production. The Peruvian government on Saturday rejected an ONDCP report that said coca leaf and cocaine production had dramatically increased last year. The anti-drug office, Devida, said the report contained "a series of errors" because it did not consider the amount of coca eradicated nor the traditional consumption of coca and the country's licit coca industry, which does not produce cocaine.

SD Medical Association Opposes Marijuana Initiatives, ONDCP Touts Mexico Opium Reduction, More... (7/31/20)

Rhode Island's governor is once again pushing for marijuana legalization, the South Dakota state medical association comes out against both medical marijuana and marijuana legalization initiatives, and more.

Fewer opium poppies in Mexico these days... but more fentanyl. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Governor Reiterates Support for Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) said in an interview Thursday that she continues to support marijuana legalization as one way to raise revenue. "I was in favor of it last year, so I'm continuing to be in favor of it," the governor said. "I'm going to put it back again."

South Dakota Medical Association Comes Out Against Marijuana Initiatives. Voters will have a chance in November to vote on both a marijuana legalization initiative, Constitutional Amendment A, and a medical marijuana initiative, Initiated Measure 26, but the South Dakota State Medical Association is opposing both of them and will write the opposition statement that will appear on the general election ballot. The association maintains that marijuana is a hazardous drug and a public health concern.

Drug Policy

White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Announces Record Reduction in Poppy Cultivation and Potential Heroin Production in Mexico. "The annual United States Government estimate of "Mexican Poppy Cultivation and Heroin Production" found poppy cultivation in Mexico decreased by 27 percent, from 41,800 hectares in 2018 to 30,400 hectares in 2019," ONDCP said. "Similarly, potential pure heroin production decreased by 27 percent, from 106 metric tons in 2018 to 78 metric tons in 2019. This 27 percent decrease in the potential production of heroin marks a milestone by meeting a goal set by the Trump Administration's National Drug Control Strategy two years early." What ONDCP didn't say is that Mexican poppy cultivation is down not because of any US or Mexican policy initiatives but because the farmgate price for opium dropped dramatically beginning last year because of overproduction and the increasing resort to fentanyl as a substitute for heroin.

House Passes Bill to Block DOJ Meddling in State Marijuana Programs, Scots Want Safe Injection Sites, More... (7/30/20)

The House has voted to block the Justice Department from interfering with state-legal marijuana programs, a populous Maryland county moves to end no-knock raids for drugs, and more.

Marijuana Policy

House Passes Measure to Protect State Marijuana Laws from Federal Interference. The House on Thursday took up an amendment to protect all state, territorial, and tribal marijuana programs from interference by the Justice Department. The amendment passed on a voice vote.

Law Enforcement

Maryland's Montgomery County Bans No-Knock Raids for Drugs, Restricts Use of Force. The Montgomery County Council approved changes to the county police department's use of force policy on a unanimous vote Wednesday. No-knock raids would be banned except when involving crimes of violence, and chokeholds and other restraints would also be banned. "When there is state-sanctioned violence and discrimination, people feel it and that's why we've awoken right now," Councilman Will Jawando, one of the lead sponsors of the bill, told the council Wednesday. "Drug possession or distribution would not be allowed under this bill," Jawando said. "The vast majority of cases for no-knock warrants in the county are for drug possession." Actually, only about 40% of no-knock raids in 2017 and 2018 were for drug offenses, but this measure would eliminate those. County Executive Marc Elrich, who voiced support for police reforms earlier this summer, is expected to sign the bill.

International

New Zealand Roadside Drug Testing Bill Proposed. Police Minister Stuart Nash is pushing a proposed new law that would give police the power to conduct random, suspicionless roadside drug testing of drivers. Under the new bill, police will be able to saliva-test drivers for commonly used drugs such as marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy, opiates and benzodiazepines. "Under this law, drivers who test positive for the presence of drugs will be fined, immediately suspended from driving for 12 hours, and lose half their demerit points," Nash said. "Drivers would also face harsher criminal penalties where blood tests confirm impairing levels of drugs in their system, or drugs combined with alcohol." Specific criminal limits for different drugs would be set later, giving an expert review panel time to weigh in. The bill is set for a first reading next week.

Scots Back Safe Injection Sites, Poll Finds. A majority of people in Scotland support setting up safe injection sites, according to a poll published in the International Journal of Drug Policy. The study, conducted by academics in Glasgow and Liverpool, questioned more than 1,500 people in Scotland and found 61% agreed with introducing the facilities, while 15% were against and 24% unsure. The poll comes as proposals to set up a safe injection site in Glasgow have been blocked by the British Home Office in London.

Book Review: The Year of Dangerous Days: Riots, Refugees, and Cocaine in Miami 1980 [FEATURE]

The Year of Dangerous Days: Riots, Refugees, and Cocaine in Miami 1980 by Nicholas Griffin (2020, Simon & Schuster, 318 pp., $26.99 HB)

In this, of all years, that a book like The Year of Dangerous Days should make an appearance seems apropos. As we live our own year of dangerous days, with pandemic, economic disruption, and streets simmering over police violence, especially aimed at Blacks, this is a tale of Florida's glittering jewel living through a similar three-pronged existential crisis.

It is both fast-paced thriller and thoughtful meditation on race, class, immigration, crime, and the role of cocaine in violence and corruption. We're still grappling with all those issues that beset Miami 40 years ago, a sad truth that doesn't reflect too favorably, but perhaps leaves some room for lessons to be learned.

In Dangerous Days, Miami resident and veteran author Nicholas Griffin takes us to 1970s Miami, or rather, the three Miamis: Anglo, Black, and Hispanic. With the city becoming increasingly Spanish-speaking thanks to the influx of Cuban refugees after Fidel Castro's revolution came to power in 1959, Whites were grumbling about speaking English in America, damn it! -- while Blacks were feeling displaced, left behind, and tired of heavy-handed policing and the Cubans were mainly flexing their growing political power as right-wing anti-communist extremists devoted to restoring their ancien regime 90 miles across the Caribbean in Havana.

The up-and-coming Sunbelt city was presided over by a charismatic, visionary Puerto Rican mayor, Maurice Ferre -- the city's first Latino mayor -- whose family construction business fueled its fortune by supplying the concrete that helped build the I-95 freeway through the heart of Overtown, the city's Black commercial and social soul back in 1965. That act of "urban renewal" drove thousands of displaced black residents into Liberty City, the nation's first public housing project, where tensions festered throughout the 1970s.

Ferre's vision for Miami was as a southward-facing city keyed to the economies of Latin America -- and it worked. Foreign banks piled into the city, Latin American tourism and home-buying boomed, and Miami soon earned the sobriquet "the capital of Latin America" as flight capital from Central and South American countries. But capital flight alone couldn't account for the massive, multi-billion dollar surpluses showing up in the Miami Federal Reserve bank at the time. That money was cocaine cash.

The laundered cash from cocaine sales took place quietly and largely unnoticed -- at least at first -- but the violence unleashed by Colombian drug traffickers in Miami was another story. The July 1979 Dadeland Mall Massacre put those gunmen on the map, and repeated brazen broad daylight killings by Colombian hitmen finally got the attention of Miami police, although they remained bewildered by just who they were dealing with. (And the homicide unit in particular remained hampered by the fact that a third of its detectives went down in a cocaine corruption bust engineered by the FBI.)

Griffin follows an eventual joint federal-local investigation into cocaine money-laundering, Operation Greenback, as its operatives watch a key Colombian money-launderer literally carrying duffle bags full of cash to a series of all-too-welcoming banks on a daily basis. And he follows the efforts of Miami police and prosecutor Janet Reno to actually arrest and convict their first Colombian hitman. Here's where the book most resembles a police procedural.

From a drug policy perspective, Griffin is not great. For him, that cocaine is illegal is unquestioned, and the role of its illegality in generating both violence and black-market profits in the billions goes largely unmentioned. He does mention that if cocaine were legal, that money launderer would just be considered a hard-working professional, but he leaves it at that.

At least Mayor Ferre acknowledged the role of cocaine capital in helping build the city: He called the illicit drug trade "a depravity of the human soul," but then went on to say that "from the economic point of view, once the money goes to the bank and gets deposited, and is loaned out to build more condominiums, well, money is money."

Miami's 1980 cocaine crisis was, of course, only part of the city's struggle that year. After Dade County police beat Black motorcyclist Art McDuffy to death in late 1979, the city's Black community seethed with anger, and when an all-White jury in Tampa cleared the killer cops of any criminal liability, Liberty City exploded in some of the worst race riots of the past half-century. Over three days in May, the destruction left 10 Blacks and eight Whites dead and at least $80 million in property damage before the flames died down. Griffin details the trajectory of this disaster in fine form.

At the same time, tensions over immigration exploded when Fidel Castro responded to pressure (from within and without) to let disaffected Cubans leave the island by opening the doors to a flotilla of boats piloted by Miami Cubans gone to rescue their family members. This resulted in the Mariel boatlift, in which more than 100,000 Cubans were ferried to Miami. But Castro had the last laugh, using the boatlift to dump thousands of prisoners, mental patients, and other "anti-social elements" on Florida.

Between the cocaine cowboys, the racial tensions that exploded in Liberty City, and the radical demographic shift heralded by the Marielitos, 1980 was indeed a watershed year for Miami. Nicholas Griffin turns the tangled tales of triple trouble into an eminently readable and illuminating tale, even if he doesn't provide us with a scathing critique of the results of cocaine prohibition.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

New York City's finest are at it again, and there's more trouble in the Houston narcotics division. Let's get to it:

In New York City, an NYPD officer was arrested last Wednesday on charges he was part of a Long Island drug ring. Officer Joseph Recca went down as authorities in Suffolk County investigated a fatal overdose last September. The investigation determined that he had sold drugs to the victim, although it's not clear if he sold the drugs that caused the overdose. Recca and two others face drug and conspiracy charges, which could be upgraded to manslaughter if he is linked to the drugs that caused the overdose. He is now a former NYPD officer, having resigned upon his arrest. He's looking at up to 25 years in prison -- and that's without the manslaughter charge.

In Houston, a Houston police narcotics officer was relieved of duty and placed under investigation on July 16. Officer Juan Martinez, a 15-year veteran, is being investigated for "inappropriate conduct related to undercover operations and confidential informants," but officials have not yet provided additional details. Martinez works in the same division that undertook a botched drug raid that led to the death of two innocent homeowners and the wounding of four police officers.

House to Vote on Protecting All State-Legal Marijuana Programs, Bolivia Coca Cultivation Up, More... (7/29/20)

An amendment to block the Justice Department from using its funds to go after state-legal marijuana programs is headed for a House vote, Maryland's Supreme Court rules that the smell of weed isn't enough for a police search and arrest, and more.

Maryland Supreme Court rules smell of weed not sufficient for arrest or search. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Will Vote on Protecting All State Marijuana Programs This Week. The House is prepared to vote this week on an amendment from Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) that would protect both medical and recreational marijuana programs in the states, territories, and tribal lands. The amendment would bar the Justice Department from using its funds to impede the implementation of state-legal marijuana programs.

Maryland Supreme Court Rules Smell of Marijuana Alone Not Sufficient for Police Search and Arrest. The state's high court has ruled that police may not search or arrest people based on the smell of marijuana alone. "The odor of marijuana, without more, does not provide law enforcement officers with the requisite probable cause to arrest and perform a warrantless search of that person incident to the arrest," the court held in a unanimous ruling. The decision builds on an earlier ruling by the same court that police can't arrest and search someone based on observing amounts of marijuana smaller than 10 grams.

International

Bolivia Coca Cultivation Up Last Year, UNODC Says. Coca cultivation was up 10% over 2018 last year, according to the latest Coca Cultivation Monitoring Report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The Yungas region of La Paz accounted for nearly two-thirds of cultivation, while the Tropics of Cochabamba accounted for nearly all the rest. Meanwhile, the Bolivian government reported a roughly 20% decrease in eradication.

British Columbia Bill to Require Youth Overdose Victims to Be Detained Put on Hold. Canada's British Columbia has paused movement on a bill that would allow for people under age 19 to be detained after they suffer a drug overdose. The proposed changes in the provincial Mental Health Act would allow teens to be detained in a hospital for up to a week after an overdose, but the bill has been paused in the face of opposition from children and youth advocates and drug reform activists. They say it should be withdrawn completely.

Drug Reform Pioneer Arnold Trebach Dies, Dems Reject Marijuana Legalization in Party Platform, More... (7/28/20)

A new poll suggests the New Jersey marijuana legalization initiative is headed for victory in November, drug reform pioneer Arnold Trebach had died, and more.

Drug reform pioneer Arnold Trebach. RIP. (YouTube)
Marijuana Policy

Democratic Party Delegates Reject Marijuana Legalization Amendment to 2020 Party Platform. The Democratic National Committee platform committee on Monday rejected an amendment calling for marijuana legalization. The vote was 106-50. Instead the committee chose to stick with marijuana law reform language adopted in a draft platform last week. That language calls for decriminalizing marijuana possession, expungement of prior convictions, federal rescheduling through executive action, legalizing medical cannabis and allowing states to set their own laws.

New Jersey Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll conducted by DKC Analytics found 68% support for marijuana legalization via the ballot box in November. That's up from the 61% support the notion had in a Monmouth University poll in April. The ballot question will ask voters in November if they think the state should legalize marijuana and apply the state sales tax to purchases.

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Reform Giant Arnold Trebach Dead at 92. The American drug reform movement has lost one of its pioneers. Arnold Trebach, who died last week at the age of 92, founded the Drug Policy Foundation in 1986, deep in the middle of Ronald Reagan's war on drugs. That foundation has since morphed into the Drug Policy Alliance, the most powerful drug reform organization in the country. As a professor at American University, Trebach took what was then a lonely and courageous stance against drug prohibition and the excesses of drug war and helped launch it toward the mainstream. His 1987 book, The Great Drug War, was a forthright broadside against prohibitionist orthodoxy that laid out the adverse consequences of trying to control the way people chose to alter their consciousness, from mass incarceration to widespread drug testing and humiliating border searches to coercive "drug treatment" centers and beyond. Although he didn't outright call for an end to drug prohibition until the second edition of his book in 2005, his pioneering work laid the intellectual groundwork of the anti-prohibitionist movements that have made such progress in this century. Arnold Trebach was not only a giant of drug reform; he was a friend to us at StoptheDrugWar.org. He will be missed.

House Could Vote on Marijuana Legalization in September, France to Issue Instant Fines for Drug Use, More... (7/27/20)

The House could vote to legalize marijuana this fall, DC activists say their natural entheogen initiative has qualifed for the ballot but it's not official yet, and more.

Could the House vote to legalize marijuana this fall? Maybe. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Congress Planning Vote on Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill in September, Sources Say. Congressional sources have told Marijuana Moment that the House is moving toward holding a floor vote on a comprehensive federal marijuana legalization bill in September. The bill in question is the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3884).

New York Senate Approves Bill to Widen Marijuana Expungements. The state Senate has approved SB 8666, which increased the number of people eligible for the expungement of low-level marijuana convictions. "This bill would ensure that individuals convicted for certain lower-level marijuana possession offenses prior to 1977 are eligible for relief in accordance with the expungement provisions enacted in 2019," the bill states.

Psychedelics

DC Activists Say They've Qualified Natural Entheogens Initiative for Ballot, But Not Official Yet. Activists with Decriminalize Nature DC, the folks behind an initiative to make natural psychedelics the lowest law enforcement priority, say that they've collected enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. They have been watching the validation process since turning in signatures earlier this month and say they crossed the signature threshold late last week. The DC Board of Elections will make a formal announcement at its August 5 meeting.

International

France to Start Hitting Drug Users with Instant 200 Euro Fines. Prime Minister Jean Castex said Saturday that police in some cities have been issuing 200 Euro ($233) fines to people caught using drugs, especially marijuana, and that the program is going to be expanded nationwide. Under a law passed in 1970, drug users can be punished with up to a year in prison, but few people actually do jail time. The new measures would simplify policing by "inflicting punishsment without delay," Castex said, adding that it would be an efficient tool against drug dealers "which are eating away at neighborhoods."

Oakland Psychedelic Activists Take Next Step, NY Senate Passes MedMJ Housing Protections, More... (7/24/20)

Congress could take up an amendment that aims at protecting state-legal marijuana programs next week, Oakland activists are pushing forward with plans to open up natural psychedelics for healing -- but not commercial -- purposes, and more.

Decriminalize Nature Twitter logo
Marijuana Policy

Congress Could Vote on Amendment Protecting Legal Marijuana States Next Week. Lawmakers in the House filed an amendment Wednesday to protect state-level marijuana legalization laws from federal interference. The amendment is to an appropriations bill funding several federal departments. It was filed by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) and could come to a vote next week -- if the House Rules Committee decides to take it up.

Medical Marijuana

New York Senate Passes Bill Protecting Medical Marijuana Patients from Eviction. The state Senate approved a bill on Tuesday that would grant housing protections for registered medical marijuana patients. The measure, S.4117, "prohibits the eviction of tenants for using medical marijuana for a certified medical use," according to a summary of the bill. The bill has now been referred to the Assembly, where the Housing Committee will take it up as A.7764.

Psychedelics

Oakland Psychedelic Activists Unveil Plan to Let Residents Use Natural Entheogens. Activists with Decriminalize Nature have submitted a proposed measure to allow for the use of a variety of psychedelic substances in medicinal hearing ceremonies. The proposal builds on an existing ordinance to make enforcement of laws against psychoactive plants the lowest law enforcement priority. The measure would not allow sales, but would instead establish a pilot program providing legal protection for residents and facilitators participating in plant-based healing ceremonies.

Reform Groups Call for Marijuana Legalization Amidst COVID Crisis, DEA Part of Federal Anti-Crime Surge, More... (7/23/20)

The initial draft of the Democratic platform calls for not interfering with state marijuana laws but doesn't call for legalization, a North Dakota legalization campaign comes up short, hospitals are warning of IV opioid shortages, and more.

The Mexican military is being cited (again) for human rights abuses in its prosecution of the drug war. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Democratic Draft Platform Does Not Include Marijuana Legalization. The initial version of the national Democratic Party platform, released by the Democratic National Committee's platform drafting panel, calls for allowing states to set their own marijuana laws, but stops short of calling for federal legalization. Various marijuana policy reforms in the draft include decriminalizing cannabis possession, automatic expungement of prior marijuana convictions, federal rescheduling through executive action, legalizing medical cannabis, and allowing states to set their own laws. The draft could still be amended when the full platform committee meets next Monday.

Coalition of Justice and Drug Reform Groups Call on Congress to Legalize Marijuana Amid Coronavirus Crisis. The ACLU, the Drug Policy Alliance, NORML, and Human Rights Watch are among a coalition of civil rights and drug reform groups calling on Congress to pass comprehensive marijuana legalization legislation that emphasizes restorative justice. Calling themselves the Marijuana Justice Coalition, the group says legalization is now especially urgent in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide protests over police brutality. Given the current situation, "marijuana reform as a modest first step at chipping away at the war on drugs is more relevant and more pressing than ever before," they wrote in a letter to Congress.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Comes Up Short on Signatures. The campaign to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot has come up short on signatures. The North Dakota Freedom of Cannabis Act needed some 27,000 valid voter signatures by Wednesday, but had only 24,000 raw signatures to hand in. A second legalization initiative campaign, Legalize ND, came up short earlier. Now, both groups say they are aiming at 2022.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Hospitals Say IV Opioid Painkillers Running Short Amid Coronavirus Crisis Because of DEA Quota Policy. One of the biggest hospital groups in the country, Premier, Inc., is warning that intravenous painkillers are in short supply during the pandemic because of the DEA's restrictions on legal opioid production. As part of the federal government's response to the opioid epidemic, DEA has slashed the amount of opioids producers can manufacture over the past two years. That's made them harder to get for everyone, including hospitals. Unless the agency gives hospitals more access to IV painkillers, hospitals will keep running short of the medications needed to help ventilate coronavirus patients and sedate patients before surgery, Premier Inc. wrote in a Wednesday letter to the DEA.

Law Enforcement

DEA Participating in Federal Law Enforcement Surge Aimed at Big Cities. As part of the Trump administration's surge of federal law enforcement in cities including Albuquerque, Chicago, and Kansas City, the DEA will participate in what the feds are calling Operation Legend. "The surge of violent crime in many of our great American cities is unacceptable and cannot be left unchecked," said DEA Acting Administrator Timothy J. Shea. "DEA plays a vital role in combatting violent crime by targeting drug trafficking organizations who employ violence and intimidation to further their criminal enterprise. Violence is an essential element of drug trafficking. Our agents, working alongside our state, local, and federal counterparts, will bring additional resources and specialized investigative skills to help reduce violent crime plaguing so many communities." Shea did not address the role of drug prohibition in encouraging violence.

International

Mexican Human Rights Commission Says Military Abducted 27 People at Border in 2018, 12 Later Found Dead. The Mexican government's human rights commission said Tuesday that Mexican marines abducted 27 people in the border town of Nuevo Laredo in 2018 and that 12 of them were later found dead. The other 15 haven't been seen. The commission more broadly accused the marines of engaging in "illegal searches and arbitrary detentions." At the time, the military was engaged in running battles with the Zetas cartel. The commission issued non-binding recommendations that criminal investigations be opened and changes be made in Navy patrol procedures.

Mexican Border City Sees 26 Killings in 72 Hours. Chihuahua Attorney General Cesar Augusto Peniche said Wednesday that Ciudad Juarez had seen 26 homicides in the past 72 hours and that they can be attributed to a rapidly escalating war between rival gangs fighting for control of the city's drug franchise. The groups at war are the Aztecas and the La Empresa cartel. The latest killings bring the death toll to 969 so far this year in the city.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org.

Book Review: Kilo: Inside the Deadliest Cocaine Cartels -- From the Jungle to the Streets [FEATURE]

Kilo: Inside the Deadliest Cocaine Cartels -- From the Jungle to the Streets, by Toby Muse (2020, William Morrow, 303 pp., $28.99 HB)

For the last 40 years, Colombia has been one of the world's leading coca and cocaine producers, vying with Peru and Bolivia for the title each year, and recently consistently coming out on top as the world's largest producer. This despite billions of dollars spent by the Colombian government and the United States to try to eradicate the crop and suppress the trade.

It's also -- and not coincidentally -- been one of the most violent countries on the planet. A decades-long civil war between the leftist militants of the FARC and the Colombian state left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced. And after coca and cocaine took hold beginning in the 1980s, that civil war morphed into a vicious, multi-sided conflict featuring not only more leftist guerillas of various stripes and Colombian military and police forces aided and abetted by the US, but also various rightist paramilitary forces controlled by drug lords and conservative wealthy landowners working in collusion with security forces.

With Kilo, Bogotá-based journalist Toby Muse dives deep inside Colombia's coca and cocaine trade to provide unparalleled reporting both on the industry and on the dance of death it provokes again and again and again. He starts at the beginning: in the coca fields of a Catatumbo province, near the Venezuelan border. There, refugees from the economic implosion across the line now form the majority of raspachines, the farm hands whose job it is to strip the bushy plants of their coca-laden leaves. At the end of each harvest day, they tote large bags filled with the day's haul to the farm scale to be weighed and paid. They might get $8 a day.

In simple labs -- a wooden shack or maybe four poles and a tarp -- that dot the jungly countryside -- those humble leaves are pulverized and steeped in a chemical brew to create coca paste, one step away from the white powder, cocaine hydrochloride. A ton of leaves is transformed into a kilo and a half of paste, which the farmer can sell for about $400. That used to be good money, but the price has held steady for 20 years, there's more coca than ever, and costs have gone up.

But while the introduction of coca as a cash crop initially brought boom times, the smell of all the cash being generated inevitably attracted the attention of the armed groups, those strange hybrid revolutionary drug traffickers and rightist narco-militias. And that meant fighting and disappearances and massacres as the men with the guns fought to control the lucrative trade. Where coca comes, death follows, Muse writes.

Muse follows the kilo, now processed into cocaine, to the local market town, a Wild West sort of place where traffickers meet farmers, farmers get paid, and the local prostitutes -- again, now mostly Venezuelan -- get lots of business. He interviews all sorts of people involved in the trade or affected by it, from the $12 an hour sex workers to the drunken, just paid farmers and raspachines and the business hustlers who flock to the town to peddle flat screen TVs and the urban traffickers who come out to the sticks to pick up their cocaine.

And then it's on to Medellin, famed as the home of OG drug lord Pablo Escobar, and now a bustling, modern metropolis where cocaine still fuels the economy but where the drug barons are no longer flashy rural rubes but quiet men in suits, "the Invisibles," as they're now known. They may be lower profile, but they're still ruthless killers who hire poor, ambitious local kids, known as sicarios, to do the actual killing. Muse wins the confidence of a mid-level trafficker, a former policeman who learned the trade from the other side and now applies his knowledge to run an international cocaine network.

And he parties with the narcos at Medellin night clubs, techno music blasting, guests wasted on whiskey and cocaine and 2-CB ("pink cocaine," like cocaine with a psychedelic tinge, an elite party drug that costs $30 a gram while cocaine goes for $3). This glamorous life is what it's all about, what makes the constant fear or death or imprisonment worth it:

"The clubs feel like the center of this business of dreams. Cocaine has all the nervous energy of a casino where everyone keeps winning money, sex is everywhere, and at any moment, someone might step up and put a bullet in your head. This is the deal in cocaine and people are happy to take it."

Nobody expects to last too long in the trade, but they live the high life while they can. Muse's drug trafficker, Alex, doesn't make it to the end of the book, gunned down by somebody else's sicario. But before he is killed, that titular kilo makes its way out of the country and into the eager noses of London or Los Angeles.

Muse's descriptions of life in the cocaine business are vivid and detailed; his atmospherics evoke the tension of lives outside the law, where no one is to be trusted, and brutal death can come in an instant. A young sicario whom he interviews over a period of months, ages before our eyes, killing for his bosses, afraid of being killed in turn, and numbing himself in between hits with whiskey and cocaine. He wants out, but there looks to be no exit.

As a good journalist, Muse also interviews the drug law enforcers, the cops who bust mules at the Bogotá airport, the drug dog handlers running the aisles of massive export warehouses, the naval officers who hunt down the narco-subs. And it is only here, where the futility of their Sisyphean task is evident, that any critique of drug prohibition is articulated:

"">No one knows how widespread corruption is in the airports and ports. Police officers admit it's a huge problem, but only in private, off the record. That's the hypocrisy of the drug war. In formal interviews, officers point out how well they're doing, the positive results. And as soon as the interview is over, and the recorder stops, they sit back and tell you what's really happening. They tell you of the constant problem of corruption, how the war is unwinnable, and how the only solution is legalization. In private, to state that the war on cocaine can be won would make you look like an idiot. To admit the war is unwinnable in public is to end a career."

That's as close as Muse gets to any policy prescriptions. Still, Kilo digs as deep into the trade as anyone ever has, and he has the journalistic chops to make a bracing, informative, and very disturbing read. This may be as close to the Colombian cocaine business as you want to get.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A pair of Chicago cops are headed to prison for their misdeeds, and a trio of prison guards break bad. Let's get to it:

In Henning, Tennessee, a state prison guard was arrested last Sunday for trying to smuggle drugs into the West Tennessee State Penitentiary. Officer Trayvon Lee went down after he arrived at work smelling of marijuana. A subsequent search of his vehicle uncovered 13 ounces of marijuana and ten ounces of tobacco wrapped up in packages in the trunk of the car. He is now charged with introduction of contraband into a penal facility and possession of schedule VI drugs. And he was fired.

In St. Gabriel, Louisiana, a cadet corrections officer was arrested last Monday on charges she tried to smuggle contraband into the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center. Paige Destiny Ruiz, 21, went down after prison officials staked out the prison to watch her try to make a drop and found her carrying a paper bag with six cell phones, 45 pieces of loose-leaf paper sprayed with a substance suspected to be synthetic cannabinoid enclosed in clear bags, a four-ounce clear bottle of a liquid substance suspected of being cough syrup with codeine, 250 pills suspected to be MDMA (ecstasy), three packs of tobacco, 42 Nugenix Total-T testosterone pills, five taped bundles of suspected illicit substances containing 200 grams, and 26 cell phone manuals with activation packages. She also had two cigars in her front pants pocket. She is facing eight counts of introduction of contraband into a penal institution, malfeasance in office, possession with intent to distribute MDMA, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, possession with intent to distribute synthetic cannabinoids, and possession of a firearm while in possession of a controlled substance. She had been on the job less than two months.

In Spokane, Washington, a guard at the Airway Heights Corrections Center was arrested Monday after being caught bringing 15 grams of meth into the prison. Michael Mattern, 45, a 20-year veteran guard was also carrying heroin and suboxone in his lunch box. Mattern went down after inmates ratted him out, and the prison's internal investigations "led to evidence that Mattern has been compromised as a corrections officer and is introducing controlled substances into AHCC's secure facility in exchange for money, drugs and sex." He faces federal drug distribution charges.

In Chicago, a Chicago police officer was sentenced last Wednesday to nearly six years in federal prison for using bogus search warrants to raid homes and steal cash and drugs. Officer David Salgado will now join behind bars his former partner, Sgt. Xavier Elizondo, who was sentenced last month to seven years and three months in the same scheme. Both men were guilty in October of conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges. Elizondo was also convicted on one count of attempting to destroy evidence, while Salgado was also found guilty of one count of lying to the FBI. The pair used fake informants to provide false information to judges to get search warrants signed. Their lawless rampage lasted from June 2017 to July 2018 while they were working on a gang crime squad.

Medical Marijuana Update

The House has approved allowing members of the military to use hemp and CBD products, an Idaho medical marijuana initiative campaign is threatening to sue the state over signature-gathering, and more.

National

House Approves Hemp, CBD Use for Military Members. The House Monday approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) that would allow service members to use hemp and CBD products. "The Secretary of Defense may not prohibit, on the basis of a product containing hemp or any ingredient derived from hemp, the possession, use, or consumption of such product by a member of the Armed Forces," the amendment says. The bill now must be approved by the Senate.

Arkansas

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Growers Sue to Keep Out Competition. Five companies with medical marijuana cultivation permits are suing to stop three more cultivation licenses from being issued. The growers argue that the new licenses issued in June violated state law because the law requires they only be issued if the original permit holders couldn't meet patient demand.

Florida

Florida Supreme Court Asks for Rare Second Round of Arguments in Medical Marijuana Case. In a rare move, the state's high court last Tuesday ordered a second round of arguments in a battle about whether the state has properly carried out a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana. The case is a lawsuit filed by Florigrown, a Tampa company that has questioned whether a 2017 law passed to implement the voter-approved constitutional amendment is itself constitutional. The case centers on parts of the law around licensing companies to operate in the industry.

Idaho

Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Threatens to Sue Over State's Refusal to Allow Electronic Signature-Gathering. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition, the people behind a medical marijuana initiative, is now threatening to sue state officials if they continue to block activists from collecting signatures electronically. The move comes after a federal court ruled that an unrelated initiative campaign could move ahead with electronic signature-gathering. The medical marijuana campaign sent a letter to state officials Monday saying that while it "has no interest in litigation," it will sue if the state does not respond to its request by Thursday.

AZ Pot Foes File Suit to Block Initiative, House Votes to Allow Military Members to Use Hemp and CBD, More... (7/22/20)

The organized opposition makes a move in Arizona, a Pennsylvania lawmaker is trying to jumpstart a stalled marijuana legalization bill, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Pot Legalization Foes File Lawsuit to Block Initiative. Opponents of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act marijuana legalization initiative have filed a lawsuit aimed at keeping the measure off the November ballot. The lawsuit, by Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, argues that the initiative's backers did not accurately describe the measure in a 100-word summary included on petitions that voters signed for it to qualify for the general election. The initiative campaign says the lawsuit is without merit, and the state Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that the 100-word summaries do not need to detail every provision of a ballot measure. The initiative has already handed in signatures and is awaiting verification from state officials that it has qualified for the ballot.

Pennsylvania Lawmaker Renews Push to Legalize Recreational Marijuana. State Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) is trying to jumpstart a marijuana legalization bill, SB 350, that has been stalled in committee since last fall. He authored a letter to Senate and Republican leadership earlier this month to try to prod them, and more than a dozen other senators, all Democrats, signed it. Street says the state needs the revenues from marijuana legalization in the wake of the fiscal impact of the coronavirus crisis.

Hemp

House Approves Hemp, CBD Use for Military Members. The House Monday approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) that would allow service members to use hemp and CBD products. "The Secretary of Defense may not prohibit, on the basis of a product containing hemp or any ingredient derived from hemp, the possession, use, or consumption of such product by a member of the Armed Forces," the amendment says. The bill now must be approved by the Senate.

AZ Poll Shows Strong Support for MJ Legalization, BC Premier Asks for Canada Drug Decrim, More... (7/21/20)

The city of Chicago will pay out big time for seizing the vehicles of people in small-time drug busts, a California bill would undo some drug war sentencing excesses, the Colombian opposition has filed a bill to decriminalize and regulate cocaine, and more.

Cocaine could be decriminalized and regulated under a bill being considered in Colombia. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll has support for marijuana legalization at 62%. The poll comes as backers of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act legalization initiative awaits confirmation from state officials that it has submitted a sufficient number of valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Asset Forfeiture

Chicago to Pay $5 Million to Settle Class Action Suit Over Vehicles Seized in Drug Busts. A city council committee on Monday approved a $5 million payout to settle a class action lawsuit filed by two people whose vehicle was seized after a passenger was arrested for marijuana possession. The settlement will apply to hundreds of other cases where drivers had their vehicles impounded as part of drug cases. The settlement will pay people whose cars were seized the estimated Kelly Blue Book value of the vehicle.

Sentencing

California Bill Would End Mandatory Jail and Prison Sentences for Drug Offenses. State Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) has filed SB 378, which would repeal 1980s drug war laws that enacted mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. Under current law, judges are denied the discretion to sentence drug offenders to probation or diversion. "For a lot of people in progressive California it is surprising to hear that in 2020, with all of the reforms that we've been working on for years, that there are still mandatory jail or prison sentences for non-violent drug offenses," Wiener explained. "But here we are in California, in 2020, with mandatory prison or jail sentences for nonviolent drug sentences," he said.

International

British Columbia Premier Asks Canadian Federal Government to Decriminalize Drugs. BC Premier John Horgan sent a letter Monday to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to have the federal government decriminalize drug possession. Such a move would "reduce the systemic stigma associated with illicit drug use and support people to access the services that they need," he said. "Criminal prohibitions are ineffective in deterring drug use, and criminalization of drug possession directly leads to both individuals and systemic stigma and discrimination that prevent people from seeking services," he added.

Colombia Opposition Files Cocaine Decriminalization Bill. A pair of opposition senators have filed a bill to decriminalize cocaine and regulate its production. The bill is part of a broader package to end the war on drugs that was filed last year by the leftist and centrist opposition blocs. The bill seeks strict state control over coca cultivation and cocaine production in a bid to cut the finances of drug trafficking organizations and armed groups.

MT Legalization Activists Say They've Qualified for Ballot, Mexican Cartel Shows Off Its Firepower, More... (7/20/20)

New Approach Montana says county-level data shows it has qualified a marijuana legalization initiative for the November ballot but the results aren't official yet, Canada's health minister says she's open to discussing drug decriminalization, and more.

The Jalisco New Generation Cartel released this video of a massive armed convoy last Friday. (screen grab)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Activists Say County Figures Show They Qualified for Ballot. New Approach Montana, the group behind the I-190 marijuana legalization initiative and the C-118 constitutional amendment to set the legal age for marijuana at 21, said last Friday that official county-level data shows they collected enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The claim is based on county-level signature verification data, as well as the campaign's own verification process. The group said it had 8,000 more valid signatures than the 25,000 required for the initiative and nearly 2,000 more valid signatures than the 51,000 required for the constitutional amendment.

Drug Policy

Third Party Presidential Candidates Embrace Marijuana Legalization, Drug Decriminalization. Both the Libertarian and Green Party presidential nominees are supporting bold drug policy proposals, including marijuana legalization. Neither Democratic nominee Joe Biden nor incumbent Republican Donald Trump have embraced marijuana legalization. Libertarian pick Jo Jorgensen and Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins both back legalizing marijuana for adult use and more broadly ending the criminalization of other currently illicit substances. "We've got to treat drug abuse as a health problem. You should legalize marijuana and decriminalize the hard drugs like Portugal," Hawkins said. "Instead of just throwing people in prison and building the biggest prison industrial system in the world -- which Joe Biden had a lot to do [with], he wrote the legislative architecture for that as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- we should be treating drug addiction as a health problem, not a criminal problem."

International

Canada Health Minister Open to Examining Drug Decriminalization. In response to a request from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Health Minister Patty Hadju said she was open to having discussions about drug decriminalization. "To find out how we would do that in the best possible way. I'm excited to explore all possibilities to reduce the criminalization of people who use substances," she said. "You know having been a person who worked in drug policy for a long time, I can tell you when you have the support of enforcement to take the next steps or affirm what you are doing, I think that's very important," Hajdu said.

Mexico Puts Army in Charge of Customs to Fight Drug Trade. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has announced that he is placing the Army in charge of Customs at land borders and seaports in a bid to stamp out large-scale corruption linked to the illicit drug trade. "We've taken this decision due to the poor administration of the seaports, with corruption and drug smuggling in these ports," he said. The move does not include the country's airports. Mexican seaports are entry points for precursor chemicals for heroin and methamphetamine manufacture.

Mexican Cartel Shows Off Its Firepower. In what is being described by analysts as a message to the Mexican government, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) released a video last Friday showing heavily-armed cartel members alongside a long, long convoy of armored vehicles. The video shows about 75 gunmen wearing military-style fatigues and at least 20 armored vehicles, some emblazoned with CJNG initials and "special forces" or "elite group." The video release came as President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was visiting Jalisco state.

(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.)

CA Marijuana Arrests Decline But Disparities Persist, AR MedMJ Growers Sue to Block Competition, More... (7/17/20)

California marijuana felonies are at the lowest level since 1954, Argentina moves to make its medical marijuana program more patient-friendly, and more.

Black and Hispanic Californians are still more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Felony Marijuana Arrests Decline After Legalization, But Racial Disparities Persist. Felony marijuana arrests continued to decline in the wake of legalization, dropping from 1,617 in 2018, the first year of broad legalization, to 1,181 last year, a decline of 27%. But minorities remained subject to disproportionate arrests, with Hispanics accounting for 42%, Blacks for 22%, and whites at 21%. The percentage of Black and Hispanic arrests "is troubling, especially now that we've legalized it," said Ellen Komp, deputy director of the California arm of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "It's legal if you have the venture capital to open up on Main Street." The number of felony arrests last year marked the lowest figure since 1954, NORML said.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Growers Sue to Keep Out Competition. Five companies with medical marijuana cultivation permits are suing to stop three more cultivation licenses from being issued. The growers argue that the new licenses issued in June violated state law because the law requires they only be issued if the original permit holders couldn't meet patient demand.

International

Argentina to Allow Home Cultivation, Pharmacy Sales for Medical Marijuana. The Health Ministry on Wednesday met with stakeholders Wednesday to finalize details on draft regulations for medical marijuana cultivation and sales. The draft regs will allow for home cultivation by patients and the sale of oils and topicals by local pharmacies. The regs also guarantee access to medical marijuana for all patients free of charge. The new regulations are aimed at addressing deficiencies in the country's 2017 law that legalized medical marijuana, but failed to adequately cover patient needs.

House Hearing on DC Entheogens Init, Colombia Drug Gangs Enforce Pandemic Lockdowns, More... (7/16/20)

A first congressional challenge to the Washington, DC, natural psychedelics initiative has been fended off, Mexico's toll of "disappeared" in drug violence in the past 14 years tops 70,000, and more.

ayahuasca-inspired art (CC)
Psychedelics

House Committee Takes Up DC Natural Psychedelics Initiative. The House Appropriations Committee, which has jurisdiction over affairs in Washington, DC, held a hearing Wednesday to debate the status of magic mushrooms in the nation's capital, as an initiative that would make natural psychedelics the lowest law enforcement priority appears set to make the November ballot. The day saw an amendment by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), a longtime foe of DC drug reform efforts, which would bar the use of natural psychedelics without a doctor's recommendation, but Harris then withdrew the amendment in the face of Democratic opposition. "If the district's residents want to make mushrooms a lower priority and focus limited law enforcement resources on other issues, that is their prerogative," said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL).

International

Colombia Drug Gangs, Armed Groups Are Killing Pandemic Lockdown Violators, Human Rights Watch Says. Armed groups tied to drug trafficking organizations have enforced their own lockdown orders and killed people who didn't comply, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch. The group has documented at least nine killings for breaking social distancing orders since April, as well as documented examples of armed groups threatening and attacking people who breaks the groups' lockdown rules. "In communities across Colombia, armed groups have violently enforced their own measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19," José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said in the report released Wednesday. "This abusive social control reflects the government's long-standing failure to establish a meaningful state presence in remote areas of the country, including to protect at-risk populations."

Mexico's Toll of Disappeared Rises Again. The number of people who have been "disappeared" in the prohibition-related violence ripping through Mexico has officially risen to 73,201, up from 61,000 in January. The vast majority of the disappearances have come since 2006, when the contemporary Mexican "war on drugs" began. In that same period, authorities have unearthed nearly 4,000 clandestine graves, with 6,625 bodies recovered.

CDC Says Fatal Drug ODs Up Last Year, FL Supreme Court Orders Rare Second Hearing in MedMJ Case, More... (7/15/20)

After the first decline in drug ODs in decades in 2018, the number jumped again last year, the CDC says; Canadian psychotherapists want the ability to use psilocybin themselves to better treat patients using the drug, and more.

Drug overdose deaths were up last year, according to preliminary data from the CDC. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Supreme Court Asks for Rare Second Round of Arguments in Medical Marijuana Case. In a rare move, the state's high court Tuesday ordered a second round of arguments in a battle about whether the state has properly carried out a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana. The case is a lawsuit filed by Florigrown, a Tampa company that has questioned whether a 2017 law passed to implement the voter-approved constitutional amendment is itself constitutional. The case centers on parts of the law around licensing companies to operate in the industry.

Drug Use

CDC Preliminary Data Shows Increase in Overdoses Last Year. After declining for the first time in decades in 2018, drug overdose deaths rose 4.6% in 2019, according to preliminary data from the Centers on Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the data, which won't be finalized until year's end, there were 70,980 overdose deaths last year, up from 67,850 in 2018. Experts fear drug deaths will be even higher this year during a global pandemic that has disrupted health care and drug markets, isolated millions of people, and left millions more jobless.

International

Canadian Psychotherapists Petition Government for Permission to Dose Themselves to Better Treat Patients. A nonprofit group of psychedelic therapists, TheraPsil, is asking Health Canada for permission to be able to dose themselves with psilocybin in a bid to better help their patients. The move comes as a group of terminally ill patients awaits permission from the ministry to use magic mushrooms for end of life care. The group says therapists need firsthand experiences with the drug's effects: "The fundamental reason to expose therapists to their own experiences with psychedelics is that, unless you have visited these realms, you are unlikely to understand their importance." Going to a psychedelic therapist who hasn't used psychedelics would be like "going to a sex therapist who's never had sex before," said the group's executive director, Spencer Hawkswell.

ID MedMJ Initiative Campaign Threatens to Sue Over Signature-Gathering, Colombia to Spray Coca Crops, More... (7/14/20)

The Idaho Cannabis Coalition threatens to sue if state officials don't allow it to use electronic signature-gathering in the midst of the pandemic, a drug testing lab reports spikes in the use of four illicit drugs during the pandemic, and more.

Colombian coca grower (DEA)
Medical Marijuana

Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Threatens to Sue Over State's Refusal to Allow Electronic Signature-Gathering. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition, the people behind a medical marijuana initiative, is now threatening to sue state officials if they continue to block activists from collecting signatures electronically. The move comes after a federal court ruled that an unrelated initiative campaign could move ahead with electronic signature-gathering. The medical marijuana campaign sent a letter to state officials Monday saying that while it "has no interest in litigation," it will sue if the state does not respond to its request by Thursday.

Drug Use

Positive Test Rates for Four Illicit Drugs Spike During Pandemic. A report published by the specialty laboratory Millennium Health analyzed more than half a million urine drug test results and found large increases in the use of four illicit drugs during the coronavirus pandemic. The lab found a 32.0% increase for non-prescribed fentanyl over the same period last year, a 20.0% increase for methamphetamine, a 10.1% increase for cocaine, and a 12.5% increase for heroin.

International

Colombian Defense Minister Says Aerial Fumigation of Coca Crops to Start Up Again. Colombian Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said Tuesday that the government is advancing plans to restart aerial fumigation of coca crops in accordance with guidelines set out by the country's high court. "We are advancing, we have taken all the steps demanded by the Constitutional Court and we are meeting the requirements of the authorities," he said. "Restarting the spraying program is fundamental. It is in the best interest of the country and it will allow us to continue making progress much more effectively in the fight against the world drug problem," he added, without giving an exact date to restart aerial spraying." Spraying was halted in 2015 over environmental and public health concerns linked the chemical used, glyphosate, to cancer. The Trump administration is pushing Colombia to restart as well.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Hoo, boy! Highway patrolmen cooking up 'shrooms, district judges tipping off friends and messing up drug investigations, and more. Let's get to it:

In Milpitas, California, a Santa Clara County Sheriff's correctional deputy was arrested last Monday on suspicion of smuggling methamphetamine into the Elmwood Correctional Facility. Deputy Mayra Rios, 35, went down after an "extensive two-month investigation" begun after detectives received information that she was involved in smuggling drugs into the jail. She is charged with possession of meth with intent to distribute.

In Collinsville, Illinois, a State Police trooper was arrested last Friday for allegedly growing and selling magic mushrooms. District 11 Trooper Nolan Morgan, 40, went down after an investigation by the Illinois State Police Division of Internal Investigations received reports of his dealings and discovered more than a half pound of psilocybin mushrooms packaged for delivery. He is charged with possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver and manufacture of a controlled substance, psilocybin mushrooms.

In Denver, a former Colorado state district court judge pleaded guilty July 1 to telling a friend about a large-scale drug trafficking investigation who then tipped off one of the targets. Ryan Kamada, 41, learned from a drug task force officer that he was associated with one of the targets on social media. Kamada then recused himself from the case, but then called a mutual friend and told him to stay away from the suspect, warning that he was under law enforcement surveillance. The friend then told the suspected drug trafficker about the investigation. Kamada pleaded guilty to obstructing a federal task force investigation.

In Charleston, West Virginia, a former Harrison County Sheriff's deputy was sentenced last Wednesday to more than four years in prison for letting his informants keep a portion of drugs purchased in transactions monitored by law enforcement. Timothy Rock allowed at least three informants to keep some of the dope, including some that came from evidence lockers at the sheriff's office. He was convicted on four counts of distribution of heroin.

Drug Reform Initiatives Already on the November Ballot and Those That Could Still Make the Cut [FEATURE]

With signature-gathering deadlines now past nearly everywhere, the picture of where voters will have a chance to vote on drug reform initiatives becomes clearer -- although not yet finalized because state officials are still counting petitions in some cases. Marijuana legalization will be on the ballot in at least two states and as many as four states and ditto for medical marijuana. Groundbreaking initiatives on psychedelic policy and drug decriminalization will also go before voters.

Voters in a number of states will have the chance to weigh in on drug reform initiatives in November. (Creative Commons)
In a handful of cases, statewide initiative campaigns had qualified before the coronavirus reared its head, but most campaigns had to struggle to find ways to get signatures in the midst of virtual lockdowns. The virus proved particularly lethal to marijuana legalization efforts in the Heartland as initiative campaigns in Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Oklahoma all succumbed. It also helped fell a Washington state drug decriminalization campaign, with organizers there opting instead to go the legislative route.

But in some other states, organizers managed to overcome such obstacles and have -- as of this writing -- either already qualified for the ballot or have handed in enough raw signatures to suggest that they well could qualify once state officials get their counting done.

Here's where things stand at this juncture.

QUALIFIED:

Mississippi -- Medical Marijuana. Ballot Initiative 65 qualified for the November ballot before the pandemic hit. If approved, it would allow patients with any of 22 specified medical conditions to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.

New Jersey -- Marijuana Legalization. A constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana was already on the ballot before the pandemic hit. It would legalize the possession, cultivation, processing, transport, and distribution of marijuana under the purview of the already-existing Cannabis Regulatory Commission, with sales subject to the state's sales tax. This is not a citizens' initiative -- the state doesn't have those -- but a legislative one. After the governor and the legislature couldn't manage to come to agreement on a legalization bill last year, the state's elected officials punted, instead passing a resolution in December that refers the question to the state's voters.

Oregon -- Drug Decriminalization. For the first time, drug decriminalization will go before voters after the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act (IP44) qualified for the November ballot. The initiative would decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of drugs and channel marijuana tax revenues into drug treatment.

Oregon -- Therapeutic Psilocybin. Using an online signature-gathering strategy after pandemic lockdowns took effect, the campaign behind Initiative Petition 34, which would legalize psilocybin to use for therapeutic purposes in a controlled setting with a licensed facilitator qualified for the November ballot in early July.

South Dakota -- Marijuana Legalization. With support from the Marijuana Policy Project and the New Approach PAC, Constitutional Amendment A has qualified for the November ballot before the pandemic hit. It would legalize the personal possession of up to an ounce and the cultivation of up to three plants by adults, as well as setting up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales. The measure would also compel the legislature to come up with regulations for medical marijuana and hemp by 2022.

South Dakota -- Medical Marijuana. Maybe the third time will be the charm. South Dakota is the only state to twice defeat medical marijuana initiatives, in 2006 and by an even bigger margin in 2010. Initiated Measure 26, another New Approach-supported campaign, would allow patients from a list of qualifying conditions to possess up to three ounces and grow up to three plants, as well as create a system of dispensary sales.

WAITING TO HEAR:

Arizona -- Marijuana Legalization. Backers of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act marijuana legalization initiative filed more than 420,000 raw signatures with the secretary of state's office on July 2. It only needs 237,465 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The initiative would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, allow for cultivation, distribution, and retail sales, and use tax revenues from those sales to fund public education and public safety programs.

District of Columbia -- Natural Entheogens. Decriminalize DC, the folks behind Initiative 81, which would makes natural psychedelics law enforcement's lowest priority, handed in some 35,000 raw signatures on July 6, the deadline for submitting them. They need 24,712 valid voter signatures, and organizers say they have already independently verified they have 27,000 valid signatures. DC officials will rule officially in 30 days.

Montana -- Marijuana Legalization.New Approach Montana, the group behind the I-190 marijuana legalization initiative and the C-118 constitutional amendment to set the legal age for marijuana at 21, turned in more than 52,000 raw signatures for the initiative (it needs 25,000 valid voter signatures) and 80,000 signatures for the amendment (it needs 50,000 valid voter signatures) on June 19. Now it's nail-biting time as organizers wait for the state to see if they came up with enough good ones.

Nebraska -- Medical Marijuana. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, the group behind the state's proposed medical marijuana initiative, handed in some 182,000 raw signatures on July 2. They need at least 121,669 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The campaign must also meet a requirement that at least 5% of voters in at least 38 counties sign up.

STILL GATHERING SIGNATURES:

Idaho -- Medical Marijuana. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition had given up the ghost in the face of the coronavirus back in March, but its medical marijuana initiative has received an unexpected boost and could still make the ballot after federal court decisions around electronic signature-gathering for an unrelated initiative opened the door for a potential revival. Now, the group is asking the state to allow them to collect signatures electronically. They would still need some 55,057 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Come November, medical marijuana and marijuana legalization could continue to expand across the country, while we could also break new ground on drug decriminalization and psychedelics. Let's get out and vote. As if you needed to be told that this year.

Democratic Platform to Call for Rescheduling and Decriminalizing Marijuana But Not Legalizing, Canada Police Chiefs Want Drug Decrim, More... (7/13/20)

Democratic task forces working on the party platform have settled on rescheduling and decriminalizing marijuana but not legalizing it, the Justice Department rips a Massachusetts dope squad for its resort to excessive force, Canadian police chiefs call for drug decriminalization, and more.

The Oregon therapeutic psilocybin initiative has qualified for the ballot. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Proposed Democratic Platform Calls for Marijuana Decriminalization and Descheduling. Task forces charged with drafting the Democratic Party platform are calling not for the total federal legalization of marijuana but for decriminalizing it and for rescheduling it for medical purposes. The recommendations will be provided to the platform committee, which will ratify it before the Democratic national convention next month. According to NJ.com, the proposals include allowing states to decide on whether to legalize marijuana, expunging past convictions, and calling on states that have legalized marijuana to reinvest revenues in communities that have borne the brunt of the drug war.

Kansas City to Remove Marijuana Violations from City Code. The city council voted last Thursday to remove possession or control of marijuana as a violation within the city. The ordinance, introduced on June 18 by Mayor Quinton Lucas and four City Council members, passed by a 9-4 vote. Two years ago, the Jackson County (Kansas City) prosecutor announced her office would no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases, with the exception of illegal sales, distribution and impaired driving.

Hemp

Hawaii Legislature Approves Industrial Hemp Bill. A bill to legalize industrial hemp in the state passed the Senate last Wednesday after having already passed the House. The bill, HB1819 HD2 SD3, now goes to the desk of Gov. David Ige (D). Ige vetoed a similar bill last year, citing concerns it was unenforceable, but this year, legislators worked closely with Ige's office to ensure it would get signed.

Law Enforcement

Democratic Progressives Announce BREATHE Act to Reform Policing. House Democratic members including Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) are pushing for a wide-ranging bill called the BREATHE Act, which would transform the country's criminal justice system. Among its provisions are a call to eliminate life sentences, retroactively expunge drug convictions, shut federal prisons and immigration detention centers, and afford voting rights and "lifetime education" for prisoners. The bill would also move to defund the DEA and ICE, end mandatory minimums, and decriminalize drug possession, among other provisions.

Justice Department Accuses Springfield, Massachusetts Narcotics Bureau of Using Excessive Force. In a report released last Wednesday, the Justice Department said an investigation has revealed that there is "reasonable cause" to suspect the Springfield Police Department's Narcotics Bureau regularly resorted to excessive force. "Our investigation of the Springfield Police Department over the last year revealed chronic issues with the use of force, poor record-keeping on that subject, and repeated failures to impose discipline for officer misconduct," said US Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling. The Justice Department said the bureau violated the Fourth Amendment, which protects the public from the unreasonable use of force by the police. In the report, Justice said "our investigation identified evidence that Narcotics Bureau officers repeatedly punch individuals in the face unnecessarily, in part because they escalate encounters with civilians too quickly, and resort to unreasonable takedown maneuvers that, like head strikes, could reasonably be expected to cause head injuries."

North Carolina Cops Confronted by Hostile Crowd After Drug Bust. Police in High Point, North Carolina, were swarmed by an angry crowd after police searched a home as part of a drug investigation. People kept arriving at the scene until "a hostile crowd of approximately 50 people had taken over the street in front of the residence," police reported. Police said the crowd blocked the roadway and swarmed a police vehicle, and police resorted to pepper spray to clear the area. Police seized 85 grams of heroin and 15 grams of marijuana and arrested two people.

Psychedelics

Oregon Therapeutic Psilocbyin Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. Initiative Petition 34, which would legalize psilocybin to use for therapeutic purposes in a controlled setting with a licensed facilitator, has qualified for the November ballot, the secretary of state's office announced last Wednesday.

DC Natural Psychedelic Initiative Faces Challenge from GOP Congressman. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), a longtime foe of allowing Washington, DC, to move forward with drug reform efforts, says that he plans to force a vote in Congress to block the proposed natural psychedelic initiative. He said he plans to force a House Appropriations Committee vote next week.

International

Canadian Chiefs of Police Call for Drug Decriminalization. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has recommended that simple drug possession should be decriminalized. The report by the association's special committee on decriminalization of illicit drugs calls for the creation of a national task force to research drug policy reform. "Canada continues to grapple with the fentanyl crisis and a poisoned drug supply that has devastated our communities and taken thousands of lives," association president and Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer said in a statement. "We recommend that enforcement for possession give way to an integrated health-focused approach that requires partnerships between police, health care and all levels of government."

EVENT: No Time Like the Present: Drug Policy Reform is More Urgent Than Ever

Video of this event will be posted in the near future -- please check back!

No Time Like the Present: Drug Policy Reform is More Urgent Than Ever

side event, UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

Wednesday July 8, 2020 / noon-1:30pm ET

online registration via Zoom

The coronavirus pandemic has made ongoing crises affected by drug policy even more intense and urgent. "No Time Like the Present" will discuss incarceration, HIV/AIDS, and rule of law/human rights issues. Our speakers will provide perspectives from the global level, for the US and Philippines, and in New York City. Email [email protected] or call +1 202-236-8620 for further information.

"No Time Like the Present" is organized by DRCNet Foundation, a US-based NGO in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/global, https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines for information on our international programs

  • Gang Badoy Capati, Executive Director, Rock Ed Philippines
  • Ruben Carranza, Senior Expert and Director of Reparative Justice Program, International Center for Transitional Justice
  • Charles King, CEO, Housing Works
  • Ehab Salah, Adviser, Prisons and HIV & UNAIDS Focal Point, UN Office on Drugs and Crime
  • Ninan Varughese, Director a.i., UNAIDS New York Office
  • moderated by David Borden, Executive Director, DRCNet Foundation

House Spending Bills Include MedMJ Protections, DC Psychedelic Initiative Hands in Signatures, More... (7/7/20)

Mexico once again looks set to move forward with medical marijuana, House funding bills include protections for medical marijuana -- but not recreational marijuana -- and more.

Decriminalize DC has handed in signatures for its natural psychedelic lowest priority initiative. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

House Spending Bills Include Medical Marijuana Protections for States, Banking Systems, and Universities. The Democratically-controlled House unveiled its versions of funding bills this week, and they include provisions that would protect banking businesses and universities doing business with medical marijuana operations, as well as the states that oversee medical marijuana programs. The protections do not extend to state-legal recreational marijuana.

Psychedelics

DC Activists Submit Signatures for Natural Psychedelic Initiative. Decriminalize DC, the folks behind Initiative 81, which would makes natural psychedelics law enforcement's lowest priority, handed in some 35,000 raw signatures Monday, the deadline for submitting them. They need 24,712 valid voter signatures, and organizers say they have already independently verified they have 27,000 valid signatures. DC officials will make it official in 30 days.

International

Mexico to Implement Medical Marijuana Law as Marijuana Legalization Delayed. The Mexican Secretariat of Health has announced that it plans to finalize medical marijuana regulations within the next two months. Mexican law was amended to allow for medical marijuana in 2017, but the Health Secretariat has so far failed to issue them. Now it has until September 9 to issue them. The move comes as broader marijuana legalization has been delayed by political bickering and coronavirus pandemic shutdowns.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, Vaping, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School