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US Sending Lethal Aid to Ecuador to Fight Drug Gangs, House Members Target "Gas Station Heroin," More... (1/22/24)

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #1203)

The Justice Department seeks to throw out a challenge to federal marijuana prohibition, Mexico wants to know where military grade weaponry reaching drug cartels is coming from, and more.

Tiantepine or "gas station heroin" marketed as "Zaza"
Marijuana Policy

Biden Administration Will Seek to Dismiss Marijuana Industry Lawsuit Challenging Prohibition, DOJ Tells Federal Court. The Justice Department (DOJ) will seek to have a federal court dismiss a marijuana industry lawsuit that seeks to block the enforcement of federal marijuana prohibition in states where it is legal, DOJ said in a document filed with the court Wednesday. DOJ will be filing a "motion to dismiss and supporting memorandum" on the court-imposed deadline set for Tuesday.

In the lawsuit, plaintiffs argue that enforcing prohibition in state-legal markets is unconstitutional, creates public safety risks, and blocks the industry from accessing critical financial services. The plaintiffs include multi-state operator Verano Holdings, Massachusetts pot businesses Canna Provisions and Wiseacre Farms, and Gyasi Sellers, CEO of Treevit.

The lawsuit argues that Congress's original mission to ban marijuana and eradicate interstate commerce in the substance has been "abandoned" as more states legalize the substance.

"Despite these changes, the federal criminal prohibition on intrastate marijuana remains in place, an unjustified vestige of a long-abandoned policy," the complaint, filed last October, states. "This unjustified intrusion of federal power harms Plaintiffs, threatens the communities they serve, and lacks any rational purpose."

The existing ban on cannabis under the CSA results in an "unconstitutional imposition on state sovereignty," attorneys said. "While Congress has authority to ban marijuana from interstate commerce, it has no general police power over marijuana grown, transported, and distributed in intrastate commerce. Neither the Commerce Clause nor the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution permit this overreach by Congress."

But if DOJ has its way, the question will never be argued.

Drug Policy

Handful of House Members Request FDA Action on "Gas Station Heroin" Use. Late last week, Reps. Jeff Jackson (D-NC) and Rich McCormick (R-GA) led a bipartisan group of members of Congress requesting the Food and Drug Administration take action to address tianeptine use. Tianeptine, commonly known as "gas station heroin," has opioid-like qualities and is extremely addictive. Tianeptine is not currently scheduled as a controlled substance and is not approved for any medical use by the FDA. It is widely available for purchase as a supplement.

Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Florida, and Kentucky have already taken action to ban or control tianeptine sales at the state level.

"The urgent need for FDA action on tianeptine cannot be overstated," the members wrote in a letter sent to the agency. "It is vital to support legislative or administrative initiatives that strengthen FDA oversight and provide states greater ability to protect our communities from the dangers posed by unregulated substances like tianeptine."

Rep. Jackson's letter requests additional information on FDA's research on tianeptine use, the effects of tianeptine on human health, and the actions taken by FDA to address tianeptine use.

In addition to Reps. Jackson and McCormick, the letter was signed by Reps. John Rose (R-TN), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), and Wiley Nickel (D-NC).

Foreign Policy

US Sending Bullets, Equipment, FBI Agents to Help Ecuador Battle Drug Gangs. President Biden's Special Advisor for the Americas Christopher Dodd and Commander of the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) General Laura Richardson met Monday with President of Ecuador Daniel Noboa and will meet with other senior Ecuadorian government officials tomorrow to showcase US support for the country in the wake of a surge in violence, according to the official readout of the encounter. The discussions are focused on ongoing commitment to democratic values and the rule of law, and ways to deepen bilateral cooperation, including with respect to security, counter drug cooperation, migration, and economic development.

This week, the United States is facilitating the delivery of over 20,000 bullet proof vests and more than $1 million worth of critical security and emergency response equipment, including ambulances and defense logistic support vehicles. The United States also announced that, in the coming days, the FBI will increase its personnel in-country to support the Ecuadorian National Police and Attorney General's Office.

In addition, the Department of Homeland Security is deploying personnel to support the ongoing training of the police and prosecutors; offering additional support in digital forensics and other analysis critical to targeting gang members, drug trafficking networks, and corrupt officials; and providing key training and technical assistance with respect to protection of executive officials. USAID also is augmenting support for its municipal security programs, including support for crisis communications.

Meanwhile, the United States, Ecuador, and other regional partners continue to advance the goals under the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity initiative launched by President Biden in June 2022 to help provide greater economic opportunity to Ecuadorians, which is crucial to addressing the underlying drivers of insecurity, criminality, and migration.


German Health Minister Says Marijuana Will Be Legalized This Spring. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach says the Bundestag should finalize marijuana legalization next month and the new law should be in effect by April.

"I am continuing to assume that the Cannabis Act will be passed by the Bundestag in the week between Feb. 19 and 23 and will go into force from April 1," he said.

The country's ruling coalition came to power promising to get legalization done, but it has not happened yet.

The current plan calls for the legalization of personal possession and home cultivation beginning April 1, with "'cultivation clubs" potentially launching as early as July. But there is no provision for legal marijuana commerce. Regional pilot projects for commercial supplies were included in earlier versions of the bill, but are not included in this final draft.

Mexico Demands Investigation into US Military Grade Weapons Being Used by Drug Cartels. The Mexican army is increasingly seizing belt-fed machine guns, rocket launchers, and grenades that are not sold for civilian use in the US -- and it wants to know how and why.

"The (Mexican) Defense Department has warned the United States about weapons entering Mexico that are for the exclusive use of the US army," Foreign Relations Secretary Alicia Bárcena said. "It is very urgent that an investigation into this be carried out."

The military said last year it had seized 221 fully automatic machine guns, 56 grenade launchers and a dozen rocket launchers from drug cartels since late 2018.

The cartels have bragged openly about the military grade US weaponry and openly displayed it on social media. Such armaments pose a special challenge for the Mexican military and can leave Mexican police forces facing better-armed foes.

US Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar said Monday that Mexican officials had indeed broached the issue in meetings last week and pledged that the US would investigate. "We are going to look into it, we are committed to working with Sedena (Mexico's Defense Department) to see what's going on," Salazar said.

There are several possibilities for the where the weaponry is coming from. Central America was the recipient of massive US arms shipments in the 1980s, such weapons sometimes go missing from US stocks, and some manufacturers who sell to the US military might also be selling them abroad or on the black market.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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