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DEA Recommends Rescheduling Marijuana, San Francisco Drug Crackdown Continues, More... (4/30/24)

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #1210)
Consequences of Prohibition

A push to pass the SAFER Banking Act via the FAA reauthorization bill has faltered, fentanyl is wiping out opium farmers in Guatemala, and more.

Market Street in San Francisco's Tenderloin district. Police are making lots of drug arrests, but are they making any difference? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

DEA Recommends Rescheduling Marijuana. The DEA has proposed rescheduling marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the Associated Press reported Tuesday. The plan is for the agency to issue an interim rule reclassifying the substance for the first time since the CSA was enacted more than 50 years ago. Attorney General Merrick Garland (D) will submit the proposal to the White House as early as today.

The move comes months after the Department of Health and Human Services issued an opinion that marijuana should be reclassified because it has potential medical benefits. Acting on a campaign promise, the Biden administration initiated the review in October 2022.

Rescheduling will allow for marijuana to be researched for medical uses, opening the door for pharmaceutical companies to get involved in the industry. It would also eliminate significant tax burdens for the legal marijuana industry, including IRS code Section 280E, which bars marijuana businesses from deducting business expenses.

Still, some marijuana reformers greeted the announcement with only two cheers.

"This is a positive step forward for federal cannabis policy, however, it is a rather modest step given the strong support among American voters for comprehensive cannabis reform, said Matthew Schweich, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "It is important to acknowledge that this rescheduling would not affect the criminalization of medical cannabis patients and cannabis consumers under state laws – so we must continue the work of enacting sensible and fair cannabis legalization and medical cannabis laws through state legislatures and ballot initiatives."

Move to Pass SAFER Banking Act as Part of FAA Reauthorization Bill Falters. For awhile last week, it appeared that a bill aimed at assisting the legal marijuana industry with its financial services problems, the SAFER (Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation) Banking Act (S. 1280), would finally pass, being folded into the "must pass" Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill. Not any longer.

That plan has now been scrapped after objections from unnamed lawmakers. The role of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is also unclear.

The bill has repeatedly passed the House but has never passed the Senate despite a decade of attempts. SAFER passed a Senate Committee for the first time only last fall.

There is still hope that the bill will pass soon. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said last month the Senate would "work very hard" to get the bill passed in this session.

"We believe very strongly in so many things, and we are going to continue to work on the agenda that we put before us," Schumer said. "We first have to fund the government -- the supplemental is very important. But after that, you will see us turn to many of the bills that we passed: the SAFER Act, safety on the rails, and so many other things."

Law Enforcement

San Francisco Cops Arrest 60, Seize Half-Pound of Dope in Tenderloin Operation. In a one-day enforcement operation targeting drug dealing and drug use in the Tenderloin last week, city police arrested 60 people and seized 258.2 grams of narcotic drugs.

But the operation planned by the city's Drug Market Agency Coordination Center (DMACC) did not nab any actual drug dealers. Instead, five people were arrested for possession with intent, while others were busted for possession of controlled substances, old arrest warrants, and stay-away orders.

Still, much of the city's law enforcement anti-drug bureaucracy was able to get involved. The operation included officers from SFPD's Fugitive Recovery Enforcement Team, Narcotics Unit, Narcotics Drug Recognition Expert Team, Tenderloin Station Patrol/Violence Reduction Team and the Tenderloin Plainclothes Team.

Since DMACC was launched a year ago, city police have made more than 3,000 arrests and seized more than 400 pounds of drugs. The effort is part of Mayor London Breed's (D) effort to crack down on public drug use in the city.


Guatemala's Poppy Farmers Are Taking a Hit from Fentanyl. For decades, peasants in remote areas of the country have grown opium poppies to supply the North American heroin market, but with the advent of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, their livelihoods are now at risk.

Raw opium that once sold for $64 an ounce is now under $10, and the army patrols sent out to eradicate poppy crops are not funding much this year.

"The land here used to be covered in poppies," said Ludvin López, a police commander, as soldiers fanned out around Ixchiguán, an area of remote hamlets populated by speakers of Mam, a Mayan language. But that was before the bottom fell out of the market, he said.

Still, the patrols continue, with soldiers attempting to forge bonds with villagers whose crops they once raided. It does not always work.

"We hardly have any poppies left around here anymore," said Ana Leticia Morales, 26, a Mam-speaking mother of two who now makes a living selling gasoline smuggled from Mexico. "But the soldiers still come, not to help us, but to make things worse."

The shift in the drug trade has consequences outside the country. First, peasants who can no longer make a living with opium are joining the masses heading for the US southern border. And second, authorities who once hunted the poppy are now hunting labs for the manufacture of synthetics like fentanyl to be exported north.

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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