Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

AZ Legalization Initiative a Go, Oakland Cops Raid Mushroom Church, More... (8/21/20)

A British prescription heroin pilot program gets extended after promising first year results, police in Oakland raid a club that was selling magic mushrooms, and more.

Magic Mushrooms. In Oakland, apparently you can have them, but you can't sell them. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Supreme Court Rules Legalization Marijuana Legalization Initiative Stays on the Ballot. The state Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a lower court decision that the description on the Smart and Safe Arizona Act marijuana legalization initiative "accurately described the proposition," ending a legal challenge to it and clearing the final hurdle before it can go to voters in November.

Psychedelics

Oakland Police Raid, Close Nation's Only Magic Mushroom Church. Police in Oakland raided the Zide Door Church of Entheogenic Plants last week, seizing marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and cash after calling firefighters to break open the church's safe. Zide Door was the most prominent "magic mushroom" club in the country and likely the only brick and mortar place where one could purchase the mushrooms. Zide Door was originally a "cannabis church," but added mushrooms to its offerings after the city council approved a resolution making enforcement of laws around certain psychedelic plants law enforcement's "lowest priority." Police say the church went beyond the law by selling marijuana without a license and by selling magic mushrooms. "The council said mushrooms should not be our priority, and they're not," said Oakland Police Captain Randell Wingate, who supervises the unit that conducted the raid. "You can use mushrooms, you can grow your own mushrooms -- but selling mushrooms is still not legal."

International

British Heroin Maintenance Pilot Project Extended for Another Year. The United Kingdom's first heroin prescribing pilot project has been extended for another year after an evaluation found it created reductions in crime and homelessness. The first year's results were "very promising," the evaluation found. The project in Middlesborough led to a a large reduction in reoffending rates and street drug use, and significant improvement in participants' health and quality of life, including seeing initially homeless participants placed in stable housing.

DEA Loses Bid to Kill MJ Rescheduling Lawsuit, Canada to Stop Prosecuting Most Drug Possession Cases, More... (8/20/20)

A new poll shows bipartisan support for marijuana legalization, Colombian coca eradication goes into high gear amidst the pandemic, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New Poll Has Bipartisan Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Data for Progress has support for marijuana legalization at 58%, including 69% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans. Support among Democrats jumped to 79% when respondents were provided details of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which is currently pending before Congress. So did Republican support, which jumped to 60%.

Law Enforcement Professionals Call on Congress to Legalize Marijuana. More than 50 current and former law enforcement professionals have sent a letter to Congress urging it to move swiftly on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. The letter was signed by the National Black Police Association, Fair and Just Prosecution and Law Enforcement Action Partnership, in addition to dozens of current and former prosecutors, judges and police officers. Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) were among the list of signees.

Federal Appeals Court Rejects DEA Challenge to Marijuana Rescheduling Lawsuit. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a DEA request to throw out a lawsuit challenging marijuana's listing as a Schedule I drug. The lawsuit was filed in May by a group of scientists and veterans who argue that marijuana's classification is unconstitutional.

International

Canadian Federal Prosecutors Directed to Avoid Drug Possession Charges in Most Cases. The Public Prosecution Service of Canada has issued a directive to prosecutors to not prosecute drug possession cases unless major public safety concerns are involved. Charges should be filed only "in the most serious cases," said agency director Kathleen Roussel. In most cases, prosecutors should seek alternative approaches, such as restorative justice and indigenous approaches. "When deciding whether to initiate and conduct any prosecution, PPSC prosecutors must consider not only whether there is a reasonable prospect of conviction based on the evidence available but also whether a prosecution serves the public interest," she said.

Colombia Coca Eradication Goes into High Gear During Pandemic. Manual coca eradication is occurring at levels not seen for a decade even as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic. In June alone, more than 32,000 acres were forcibly eradicated, more than any month since the government and the FARC signed a peace treaty in 2016. "The government has taken advantage of the pandemic to do an eradication campaign and not to support farmers," said Eduardo Diaz, director of the Agency for the Voluntary Substitution of Illegal Crops under former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. "If the government wanted to support farmers, they would also take the opportunity to be present in the territories and support them in the production of food, support them in productive development. It takes the same effort to bring troops to do forced eradication as to bring technicians to do training and plant the fields... They have to pursue drug traffickers, but the farmers aren't drug traffickers."

Book Review -- Crack: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed

Crack: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed by David Farber (2019, Cambridge University Press, 214 pp., $24.95 HB)

As we live through the year of the pandemic, with its disproportionate impact on poor and minority communities, it is striking how those differential impacts mirror what happened with crack cocaine in the 1980s. Crack was never pandemic nor even truly epidemic -- its users numbered in the hundreds of thousands and only a vanishingly tiny number of Americans ever tried it -- but like the coronavirus, it ravaged predominantly Black communities, as did the heavy-handed official response to it.

University of Kansas historian David Farber takes the reader back to the days of vial-filled streets, especially the mid-1980s, when the emergence of this smokable form of cocaine, available in cheap, single dose units (rocks) made a drug that was formerly the province of the wealthy and well-connected a mass market commodity. A gram of powder cocaine, after all, was going for $100, but you could pick up a rock of crack and get an instant high for $5.

The problem was that the $5 high was gone in a few minutes. A lot of people, Farber notes, used crack recreationally. They'd buy a pocketful of rocks, smoke 'em up, and call it a night. But for some people, the crack high proved so alluring, the urge to hit the pipe so irresistible, that they lost everything to the drug. Their possessions -- pawned for pennies on the dollar to get another rock -- and then their friends' and families' possessions, thieved for more rocks, their cars, their homes -- all gone to feed a habit so compulsive women would give blow jobs in alleys for enough money for another rock and men would steal old ladies' purses in the street.

But who would find something like that alluring? Farber points to ethnologist Philippe Bourgeois, who lived among and wrote about a group of Queens crack dealers and their clientele, for an explanation: "Crack as a preferred drug of abuse only appeals to desperate population subgroups who are victims of extreme forms of structural violence," Bourgeois wrote.

Farber himself elaborates on that theme: "Crack become so popular and then so problematic in poor communities... because most of the people drawn to chronic crack use were already in deep trouble of all kinds before they took their first hit," he writes. "The trouble -- economic, educational, psychological, cultural… the list goes on -- was shaped by the callous and racist society in which they lived. And then once these troubled people started using crack, most every kind of authority, from the police to social workers to local prosecutors, mostly made their lives worse rather than trying to help them."

It didn't help, Farber explains, that the crews getting rich off selling crack were almost entirely Black, whether Dominicans, Jamaicans, or African-Americans. That made it all the easier for mass media and politicians to demonize them, and indeed, fed by a feast of sensational crack stories, by 1988, nearly two-thirds of American cited drugs as the worst problem facing the country. And by drugs, they largely meant crack.

The political response to the ravages of crack -- not just the decimation of its users but also the violence and disorder of the black-market crack trade -- was savage. At the federal level, Farber traces the three separate crime bills in the 1980s and 1990s (including one in which Joe Biden played a significant role) that paved the way for mass incarceration), including the creation of the infamous 100:1 crack vs. powder cocaine sentencing disparity.

But going after Michelle Alexander's thesis in The New Jim Crow that the crackdown on crack was driven almost entirely by racism, Farber draws out the leading role played by Black politicians, particularly Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, who hounded the Republicans in power in the 1980s to lower the hammer. In so doing, Rangel was responding to increasingly loud complaints from his Black constituents, who for obvious reasons didn't want gun battles, thefts, and dissolute behavior on their doorsteps.

But while federal crack prosecutions helped stuff the federal prison system to the rafters, states and localities certainly added to the repression. Farber points to Chicago, where by 1987 the number of drug cases alone more than doubled the total number of felony cases in the county just a dozen years earlier. The creation in 1989 of a special drug court to handle crack cases dramatically accelerated a streets-to-prison pipeline. The special crack court simply rationalized and made more efficient the effort that sent thousands of mainly Black Chicagoans into the state prison system.

Farber also takes a fascinating look at the links between crack, crack culture, and hip-hop, which all emerged at roughly the same time in the same places, and some of whose stars (Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Biggie Smalls) grew up in the trade. The garish displays of wealth endemic to both the trade and hip-hop culture, were symbols of status in impoverished communities.

And wasn't that what America was all about? The 1980s, after all, was the era of "greed is good," and if that attitude held on Wall Street, it also held on the streets. Farber doesn't excuse the violence of the trade -- it precipitated a large increase in murders nearly everywhere it emerged -- or the callousness of knowingly selling an addictive, life-wrecking drug to one's neighbors -- nor does he minimize the damage done to the users most in its grip (and their families and their communities), but he expresses some sympathy for the people whose only real access to the American dream was through slingin' rocks.

"For a short while in the 1980s and 1990s" he writes, "crack was the main chance for tens of thousands of unemployed, undercapitalized young men who dreamed of a world where they were rich and respected and admired. The crack sellers and the crack bingers invented a consumer marketplace with the tools they had on hand and within the possibilities they could imagine. Within their economic and cultural realm, in a broader culture of entrepreneurial greed, what they did made sense."

Crack is a fine work of social and cultural history. If you thought you already knew all about crack, think again, then go out and add this to your library.

Border Meth Seizures Surge, VT Lawmakers Aim for Accord on Legal Marijuana Sales, More... (8/19/20)

Vermont legislators look to reconcile House and Senate legal marijuana sales bills, UN officials in Colombia denounce an increasing number of massacres, and more.

methamphetamine (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Lawmakers Meet to Advance Legal Marijuana Market. A group of lawmakers are meeting today to try get a bill approved that would allow for legal marijuana sales in the state. The House approved a bill with a 20% sales tax in February; the Senate approved a bill with a 16% sales tax last year. Now, a conference committee of lawmakers will try to iron out the differences. Some nonprofits and small businesses are opposing the current Senate bill, S.54, because they say it fails to provide opportunities for Black people to participate and it fails to include local families and small businesses.

Methamphetamine

US Border Officials See Methamphetamine Resurgence. Meth seizures on the border are rising, US officials say, pointing to the seizure earlier this month of nearly 800 pounds of meth valued at $16 million on the Pharr International Bridge near McAllen, Texas. Days later, another 650 pounds of meth was discovered in a semi-truck crossing the border at San Diego. According to Customs and Border Patrol statistics, its officers have seized 59 tons of meth in the fiscal year beginning last October. That's one and a half times the amount seized in the previous fiscal year, and we still have two months to go.

International

UN Peace Mission Condemns Spike in Colombia Massacres. The UN's peace mission in Colombia, set up to monitor adherence to the 2016 peace deal with the FARC, is condemning what it calls spiraling violence around the country. The mission says it has documented 33 massacres so far this year. It also said it was investigating the killings of 97 human rights defenders since then and that at least 41 former FARC combatants had been killed. In the past week alone, at least 13 people were killed, including eight gunned down at a birthday party in Narino department and five Afro-Colombian teenagers whose bodies were found in a field outside Cali. The UN defines a massacre as the killing of three or more people in the same event by the same group.

State Treasurers Lobby for Marijuana Banking in COVID Bill, Journalists Harassed in Colombia, More... (8/18/20)

A coalition of state treasurers is urging Congress to pass marijuana banking reforms as part of any coronavirus relief package, Arizona's Maricopa County improves the way it handles smalltime pot busts, and more.

Can the marijuana industry catch a break with the coronavirus relief bill? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

State Treasurers Group Lobbies for Marijuana Banking in Coronavirus Bill. A coalition of state treasurers from around the country are calling on Congress to include marijuana banking reforms in the next coronavirus relief package. The move would boost the economy by giving it a much-needed infusion of capital, while protecting workers in the sector, the treasurers argued. The House included the SAFE Banking Act in the relief bill it passed in May, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has long opposed marijuana reforms, sharply criticized House Democrats for including marijuana in the bill. Negotiations on the relief bill are currently going nowhere.

Arizona's Most Populous County Will Defer Pot Possession Prosecutions if Offenders Get a Medical Marijuana Card. Maricopa County (Phoenix) Attorney Allister Adel has announced that anyone who gets arrested in Maricopa County on a simple marijuana possession charge can apply for a medical marijuana card to avoid prosecution. "In cases where the defendant was not in compliance with the AMMA [Arizona Medical Marijuana Act] at the time of the crime solely because the person did not have a valid medical marijuana card, MCAO will dismiss a charge involving any crime covered by the AMMA if the defendant obtains a medical marijuana card and provides proof by the [initial pretrial conference]," the new policy says. That's a vast improvement over past practice under former County Attorney Bill Montgomery. Under the reign of Montgomery and his predecessors, low-level, first- and second-time marijuana offenders were sent to a drug treatment program called TASC, where they would shell out thousands of dollars and submit to frequent urine tests. The county attorney's office would get a cut of the profits.

Drug Policy

Minneapolis Suburb Repeals "Crime-Free, Drug-Free" Ordinance. The city council in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park voted unanimously Monday to repeal a controversial housing ordinance that police used to order landlords to evict tenants over suspected criminal activity. Tenants who were never convicted or even charged with a crime lost their housing, and once a local news station went public with its investigation, the city council moved quickly to repeal the policy.

International

Committee to Protect Journalists Calls for Investigation After Colombian Soldiers Shoot at Journalist, Threaten Reporters Covering Coca Protests. The Committee to Protect Journalists called Monday for Colombian authorities to undertake a thorough and transparent investigation into an incident where soldiers fired weapons at journalists Fernando Osorio and Edilson Álvarez as they covered a coca grower protest, then detained them for six hours and accused them of being left-wing guerrillas. "Colombian authorities should thoroughly investigate soldiers' brazen attacks on journalists Fernando Osorio and Edilson Álvarez and ensure that all those responsible are held to account," said CPJ Central and South Americas Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. "The fact that this is the second shooting attack by soldiers on Osorio highlights the disregard that some in the Army appear to have for journalists. Impunity in these attacks will only perpetuate violence against journalists."

Maine Marijuana Stores to Finally Open, KY "Breonna's Law" Banning No-Knock Raids Filed, More... (8/17/20)

After years of delay, Maine regulators say retail marijuana outlets will be open in October, eight people were killed in a Colombian region where different leftist guerrillas are fighting each other for control of the drug trade, and more.

Breonna Taylor (family photo)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Marijuana Retail Shops to (Finally) Open in October. It's been nearly four years since Mainers voted to legalize marijuana, and finally, the state is ready for the outlets to open. The state Office of Marijuana Policy will issue its first recreational marijuana business licenses on September 8, giving stores a month to harvest, test, and package their products before the October 9 opening date. "Today's announcement is a major milestone in honoring the will of Maine voters and a significant step toward launching a new industry in the state," OMP Director Erik Gundersen said in a statement.

Law Enforcement

Kentucky Bill Named for Breonna Taylor Would Ban No-Knock Raids. State Rep. Attica Scott (D) announced Sunday that she was filing a bill named "Breonna's Law" that would ban no-knock search warrants statewide. Under the bill, police would have to knock and announce their presence, police would be subject to alcohol and drug testing after killing someone, and police body cameras to be turned on for at least five minutes before and after serving a warrant. Breonna Taylor was an Emergency Medical Technician shot and killed by Louisville Metro Police officers serving a no-knock warrant for a drug raid. No drugs were found, but her boyfriend opened fire on the late-night home invaders, injuring one officer, and officer fired back wildly, killing Taylor. Her cause has been taken up by the Black Lives Matter movement, and her death has sparked months of protests in Louisville.

International

Eight Gunned Down in Colombia Coca-Growing Region. Unknown gunmen shot and killed eight people in one of Colombia's primary coca-growing regions, officials said Sunday. The killings took place in the town of Samaniego in Narino department, where 20 people have been gunned down in the last two month. Narino borders Ecuador, making it a strategic location on a favored route for smuggling drugs north to Central America and the US. Leftist FARC rebel dissidents are fighting for control of the region with another leftist guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army.

Groups Demand Action on MORE Act, MT Marijuana Inits Qualify, More... (8/14/20)

More than a hundred social justice and drug reform groups call on Congress to move the marijuana legalizing MORE Act next month, researchers at Johns Hopkins are partnering with a nonprofit on new research into psilocybin, and more.

psilocybin (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

125 Groups Urge Congressional Action on the MORE Act, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Drug Policy Alliance, and 123 other national and state organizations today called on House Leadership to swiftly advance the bipartisan Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (H.R. 3884) to the House floor when Congress returns in September. The MORE Act, the most comprehensive marijuana justice legislation to be considered in Congress, is needed now more than ever to alleviate economic hardship caused by COVID-19 and meet the calls for justice reform echoing all across America. "In November 2019, the House Judiciary Committee made history when it advanced the MORE Act, becoming the first congressional body to vote favorably for a marijuana descheduling bill. Since that time, the circumstances of 2020 have made the failed War on Drugs even more untenable and amplified the voices of those demanding transformation in our criminal legal system. In the face of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic and a growing national dialogue on unjust law enforcement practices, marijuana reform as a modest first step at chipping away at the War on Drugs is more relevant and more pressing than ever before. The MORE Act remains the most effective and equitable way forward," the groups said in the letter.

Montana Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Qualify for November Ballot. The secretary of state has certified that the I-190 marijuana legalization initiative and the C-118 constitutional amendment to set the legal age for marijuana at 21 have presented enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The state will now join Arizona, New Jersey, and South Dakota in voting on marijuana legalization this fall.

Psychedelics

New Psychedelic Research Nonprofit Teams with Johns Hopkins University for Real-World Study on Use of Psilocybin Mushrooms. In a new research study that will greatly expand knowledge of the real-world uses and effects of psychedelic mushrooms (Psilocybin), the nonprofit research organization Unlimited Sciences is collaborating with Johns Hopkins University Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research to conduct a survey of people from across the globe, in hopes of becoming the largest registry of its kind. The study by renowned Hopkins researchers, funded by the Denver-based nonprofit Unlimited Sciences, will ask current users of Psilocybin mushrooms validated questions before, during, and after their use of the substance, which has shown promise in previous clinical studies in helping people suffering from depression and other behavioral health conditions. Researchers have long struggled to understand how the drug's effects change outside of laboratory settings, for example in nature, concerts and other popular settings and what implications those effects have on the most common uses.

DC MJ Sales Init Filed, Filipino Drug Cops Face Murder Charges, More... (8/13/20)

DC activists have filed a legal marijuana sales initiative and hope to get it on this year's ballot, the Bahamas extends the mandate of a commission charged with recommending marijuana law reforms, and more.

Could non-medical sales come to the nation's capital? DC activists want to make it happen. (Sandra Yruel/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Washington, DC, Legal Marijuana Sales Initiative Filed. Activists in the nation's capital have filed the New Modern Day Cannabis Justice Reform Act initiative, which would end the prosecution of marijuana cultivation, sales, and consumption offenses. Since the District voted to legalize marijuana possession in 2014, a congressional rider has barred it from using tax dollars for that reason, but perhaps anticipating a Congress with a different complexion next year, activists are moving ahead with the measure anyway. And they want to get it on the ballot this year. They would have to be approved by the Board of Elections at its September 2 meeting and then gather more than 24,000 valid voter signatures to qualify.

International

Bahamas Extends Marijuana Commission Until June 2021. The Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana, which is charged with assessing public opinion on the issue and making final recommendations to the government, has been reappointed for another year, its chairman, Quin McCartney said Thursday. The commission's mandate was initially for three months, but it has now been engaged on the issue for more than two years. It was formed following recommendations by the Regional Commission on Marijuana at the 39th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). The regional commission put forward the view that in a regulated framework marijuana should be treated similarly to tobacco and alcohol. A preliminary commission report calls for decriminalization of marijuana possession, but not outright legalization. It also recommends allowing for medical marijuana patients to grow their own and allowing tourists to use medical marijuana.

Philippines Drug Cops Face Complaint of Killing Two Men in Fake Drug Raid. Eleven anti-drug policemen in San Jose del Monte are facing criminal complaints for abducting and killing two men in a fake drug sweep in February. The National Bureau of Investigation Death Investigation Division (NBI-DID) filed the complaint on Wednesday. Police had initially reported that Erwin Mergal and Jim Joshua were killed in a shootout with police during a buy-bust operation. But eyewitnesses said the men were seized by police as they passed by the home of a drug suspect. They were photographed while being held by police. In addition to murder charges, the police face charges of planting weapons and planting drugs on the victims. It is a rare exception in President Duterte's drug war, under which police have acknowledged killing thousands of people during drug enforcement operations, and more than 30,000 are believed to have been killed by police or vigilantes. Duterte promised to kill hundreds of thousands of drug suspects during his campaign, and continues to take credit for the killings, but there have been only been a handful of prosecutions of police for drug war killings.

Can Marijuana Win Over Voters in This High Plains Red State? [FEATURE]

Marijuana is on the ballot in South Dakota this year. This is a state that has the dubious distinction of being the only one to twice defeat a medical marijuana initiative. And it has another dubious distinction: It's the only state where people get prosecuted for having marijuana show up on a drug test.

That South Dakota has reactionary drug laws is not surprising; it is a pretty reactionary state. It voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, and Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has (in)famously discussed adding the president's likeness to Mt. Rushmore with him. The state's congressional delegation is all-GOP, including Senate Majority Whip John Thune, and Republicans control both houses of the legislature as well, holding a supermajority in both for nearly a quarter-century.

Still, not one but two marijuana initiatives managed to find enough support to make the ballot, and local organizers supported by national reform groups New Approach PAC and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) are hoping that marijuana's momentum can overcome rock-ribbed Republican recalcitrance on the prairie come November.

The first, Initiated Measure 26, led by New Approach South Dakota, would create a medical marijuana program for patients with doctor-certified specified debilitating medical conditions. Patients could possess up to three ounces and grow up to three plants -- or more if a doctor okays it. The state Department of Health would create and enforce rules and regulations.

The second, Constitutional Amendment A, would legalize up to an ounce for adults 21 and over and set up a system of taxed and regulated cultivation and sales. It would allow people to grow up to three plants at home -- but only if there are no retail sales outlets in their local government jurisdiction. The amendment would also require the legislature to legalize the sale of hemp and create a state medical marijuana program by April 1, 2022.

Can green win in red South Dakota? Perhaps the state isn't as red as it seems, said Michael Card, an associate professor of political science at the University of South Dakota.

"There are more no-party voter registrations now," he said in a phone interview. "Within five years, independents will probably come close to catching up to Republicans. Democrats are fleeing the party because they don't win."

"Our campaign is really bipartisan; this isn't a partisan issue," said Melissa Mentele, director of New Approach South Dakota, which is leading the effort for the medical marijuana initiative. "It doesn't matter what your party is; this is something that has brought so many people together," she said in a phone interview.

And it's no longer the last century or even the last decade, pointed out MPP campaigns coordinator Jared Moffat, who is working with South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws in support of both initiatives.

"It's been 10 years since the last attempt to reform South Dakota's marijuana laws through the ballot, and in that time, a lot has changed," he said in an email exchange. "Support for marijuana policy reform has increased significantly in every part of the county and 11 states have adopted adult-use legalization laws -- and they're working well. No state has made a serious attempt to repeal those laws. We also have recent internal polling of South Dakotans that suggests we have a great shot at passing both initiatives."

"We've had six years of education leading up to this medical marijuana initiative, the same bill has been sponsored twice in the legislature, it's been debated publicly, there's been a lot of media, and I think it's time," said Mentele. It will take a nice, slow, steady march to victory," she added.

When queried about the need for a separate medical marijuana initiative, she bristled just a bit.

"We need to press forward with both," she said. "Legalizing adult use is beneficial to the economy, but I'm a patient advocate; I'm about things like teaching people how to move off of opioids and pharmaceuticals, and when adult use programs come on board they tend to swallow medical programs. We don't want that to happen. We want two distinct markets with a tax break for patients. The people who aren't medical can buy it and pay taxes, but a true medical marijuana program passes savings on to patients."

So, will both pass, will one pass, will neither pass?

"If I had to predict, expecting high turnout for the presidential race, you're looking at Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County, the largest county in the state voting for it, and probably Brookings and Clay counties [home of South Dakota State University and the University of South Dakota, respectively], and Union County, and the reservation counties," said Michael Card, associate professor of political science at USD in a phone interview.

But that means a whole lot of South Dakota counties likely won't be voting for either medical or recreational marijuana this fall. Still, with the Sioux Falls metro area population of 266,000 constituting nearly 30% of the entire state population, that makes up for a number of sparsely-populated, more conservative counties. It's going to be competitive.

"I wouldn't be surprised if the constitutional amendment passed because of the inclusion of industrial hemp and the taxation of marijuana," said Card. "If I were leading the campaign, I'd be telling people this is a tax you don't have to pay. It's also being supported by a former US attorney, Brendan Johnson."

But, Card said, it's also possible that voters could reject legalization and just pass medical marijuana. "Our population is aging, we're seeing more patients, and even for many youth there are medicinal uses, so the idea that they could vote down legalization and approve medical is certainly plausible," he said.

"The governor is very strongly against marijuana in any way, shape, or form," said Card. "She kept the South Dakota legislature from adopting a farmers' hemp cultivation bill. She drew a line in the sand and said no way."

Noem is not alone in opposing marijuana reforms; the usual suspects are also out to block it. In July, the South Dakota Medical Association came out against both initiatives 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.

Also in July, the legalization initiative drew organized oppositionin the form of a ballot committee calling itself NO Way on Amendment. That group is led by David Own, the president of the state Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He is being joined by law enforcement, public officials, and social work leaders.

"South Dakota's current marijuana laws aren't working, and they are not serving South Dakotans' best interests," argued Moffat. "Amendment A and Measure 26 will fix what's broken and establish a commonsense approach that provides relief to patients, improves public safety, and strengthens South Dakota's economy."

The campaign is still honing messages for key voters, he added, but will likely emphasize the need for tax revenues in the face of economic downturns and the need to get marijuana out of the criminal justice system. He noted that one out of 10 arrests in the state in 2018 was for marijuana. The campaign will also make the argument that passage of the constitutional amendment is necessary to protect medical marijuana from legislative chicanery, as happened with a campaign finance law approved by voters in 2016 and gutted in Pierre.

The campaign is in decent financial shape in small-market South Dakota and ready to do battle, said Moffat.

"With significant in-state and national support, as well as an expanding small-dollar fundraising effort, we are feeling good about the campaign budget at this point. Compared to other states where there are competitive national races, we expect our advertising dollars will go pretty far in South Dakota," he said. "We never want to underestimate the opposition. Right now, it's not clear what they are willing to spend, in terms of both money and political capital, to fight us. My sense is that they're not willing to expend much, but that could change. We'll have to see."

Indeed. Early voting starts September 18.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Border Patrol agent does a litle drug transporting on the side, a Utah cop gets frisky with drug court probationers, a pair of California sheriff's deputies pay a price for stealing hundreds of pounds of weed, and more Let's get to it:

In Price, Utah, a Price police officer was arrested July 31 for having sex with a woman who was a drug court participant and on probation and with another woman who was on probation. Officer Michael Gordon Jones, 30, told one of the women not to say anything about the relationship, especially to her probation officer and drug court tracker. He was arrested for investigation of custodial sexual relations, although he has yet to be charged. He has since resigned from the department.

In Meridian, Mississippi, an East Mississippi Correctional Facility employee was arrested last Monday 3 for allegedly smuggling marijuana into the jail. Dominique Louise Tingle, 29, is charged with possession of drugs in a correctional facility.

In Brownsville, Texas, a Cameron County jail guard was arrested last Thursday for smuggling marijuana into the jail. Homero Lopez II went down after a jail inmate was caught with weed and an investigation revealed that he had called Lopez's home phone number. When he arrived at work that evening, he was confronted and eventually confessed to smuggling drugs into the jail. Both Lopez and the prisoner were charged with bringing prohibited substances and items into a correctional facility.

In Bakersfield, California, two former Kern County sheriff's deputies pleaded no contest last Thursday to felony charges for stealing more than 350 pounds of marijuana seized by the sheriff's office in 2015. Former deputy Logan August entered his plea to all 15 felony charges against him, which included conspiring to commit a crime, second-degree burglary and falsifying a report as a peace officer. August faces a potential prison sentence of upwards of 10 years and will be sentenced in October. Former deputy Derrick Penney entered his plea to two felony counts of falsifying a report as a peace officer. Penney's remaining five felony charges were dismissed and he will serve 90 days in custody and be placed on probation, according to the DA's office. The pair had earlier been sentenced to probation in federal court after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana in August 2017.

In Phoenix, a US Border Patrol agent was arrested Sunday for allegedly transporting a shipment of drugs from the border to the Phoenix airport. Agent Carlos Victor Passapera Pinott, 53, faces multiple counts of conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute controlled substances. He served in the Tucson Sector's Ajo Station. He is accused of driving to a remote border location, then driving to the airport and loading two duffle bags full of dope into another vehicle, which was stopped by investigators who found 21 kilos of cocaine, a kilo of heroin, a kilo of fentanyl, and 350,000 pills of fentanyl. Later that day, agents executed a search warrant at Passapera's home, where they found $329,000 in cash and an additional $40,000 in the vehicle he allegedly drove that morning. He's looking at up to of life in prison, a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years, and up to a $10,000,000 fine.

MA MJ Industry Unionization Battles, Bolivian Coca Growers Mobilize, More... (8/12/20)

A former crime-fighting prosecutor and attorney general who now wants to legalize marijuana is Joe Biden's vice-presidential pick, a Wyoming judge frees some hemp farmers from a spurious prosecution, and more.

Joe Biden has selected Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), the sponsor of a marijuana legalization bill, as his vice-presidential pick.
Marijuana Policy

Joe Biden Selects MORE Act Sponsor Kamala Harris for VP. Presumptive Democratic Party presidential nominee has selected Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) to be his vice-presidential pick. For drug reformers, Harris's record as San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general is a mixed one, but she is currently sponsoring a federal marijuana legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (S.2227). The Senate version of the bill hasn't moved, but the House version, HR 3384) made history last year by passing out of the House Judiciary Committee, the first time a legalization bill won a vote in Congress.

Massachusetts Marijuana Cultivation Workers Unionize. Workers at Cultivate Holdings in Leicester voted by an "overwhelming majority" to join the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Local 1445, the latest victory for organized labor in the industry. In July, workers at Mayflower Medicinals in Holliston voted to join the UFCW. But the union isn't winning every vote; recently, workers at New England Treatment Access voted down unionization. The UFCW accused management of "anti-union tactics" in that case.

Hemp

Wyoming Judge Throws Out Drug Trafficking Charges Against Hemp Farmers. Late last week, a Laramie County judge threw out drug trafficking charges brought against a pair of hemp advocates and farmers and two of their workers after the Division of Criminal Investigation raided their farm last November. Prosecutors sought to bring marijuana manufacture, delivery, possession, and cultivation charges against all four, but the judge ruled that the farmers had intended to produce hemp, not marijuana. Under Wyoming law, hemp has to have less than 0.3% THC. This crop contained less.

International

Bolivian Coca Growers Mobilize, Blockade Roads in Rising Protests Against Delayed Elections

(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.)

AZ Legalization Initiative Qualifies, Canada to Allow Psilocbyin for Terminal Patients, More... (8/11/20)

One more state will be voting on marijuana legalization in November, Canadian authorities have granted four terminally ill patients the right to use psilocybin for coming to terms with end of life, and more.

COVID is in the federal prisons. California US senators want to do something about it. (Creative Commons)
MarijuanaPolicy

Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative Qualifies for Ballot. The Smart and Safe Act marijuana legalization initiative has qualified for the November ballot, the secretary of state's office announced Monday. The measure would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of weed and grow up to six plants. It also envisions taxed and regulated sales and features several restorative justice provisions. The measure will be on the ballot as Prop 207.

Incarceration

California US Senators, Congressman Call for COVID-19 Package to Include Funding to Control Federal Prison Outbreaks. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Kamala D. Harris and Congressman Salud Carbajal (all D-CA) called Monday for the House and Senate leadership to quickly finalize a COVID-19 emergency response package that includes critical assistance to respond to outbreaks in federal prisons in California. "We are concerned that BOP has not yet implemented universal testing or onsite testing for inmates and staff to stop the spread of the virus throughout the prison system or within our communities," the members wrote. "We therefore urge you to work swiftly to ensure the necessary funds are made available to better equip the BOP in handling this crisis. The House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act, with $200 million for the BOP to respond to COVID-19 outbreaks, over 10 weeks ago. Our communities cannot afford further delays."

International

Canada to Allow Psilocbyin Access for Terminally Ill Patients. The Health Ministry and the Office of Controlled Substances have announced that four terminally ill patients will be granted access to psilocybin. The move comes just a hundred days after the patients asked the government to let them use the drug to come to terms with their lives ending. "The acknowledgment of the pain and anxiety that I have been suffering with means a lot to me, and I am feeling quite emotional today as a result," said Laurie Brooks, one of the patients able to receive her treatments. "I hope this is just the beginning and that soon all Canadians will be able to access psilocybin, for therapeutic use, to help with the pain they are experiencing, without having to petition the government for months to gain permission."

(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.)

DC Natural Psychedelic Initiative Qualifies, DPA Federal Drug Decrim Push, More... (8/10/20)

Residents in the nation's capital will vote on whether to effectively decriminalize natural psychedelics, the Arizona pot legalization initiative survives a legal challenge, the Drug Policy Alliance pushes for federal drug decriminalization, and more.

Decriminalize Nature DC street signs
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative Fends Off Legal Challenge. The Smart and Safe Arizona marijuana legalization initiative has survived a legal challenge from foes. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Smith ruled late Friday that the measure's summary did not mislead voters and the measure can be on the ballot. "At 100 words, the summary also cannot include everything," he wrote. "That is why the full initiative must accompany the petition. This initiative is plain: It wants to legalize recreational marijuana," the judge wrote. "That is the principal provision. It is unlikely electors signing these petitions would be surprised by cascading effects of legalizing a formerly illegal substance."

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Alliance Proposes Federal All-Drug Decriminalization, Releases New Legislative Framework. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) released a new federal legislative proposal Dismantling the Federal Drug War: A Comprehensive Drug Decriminalization Framework, which provides a roadmap to effectively end the criminalization of people who use drugs and begin repairing the harm drug law enforcement has caused to communities of color. The DPA model decriminalization legislation -- the Drug Policy Reform Act -- takes the first steps in dismantling the punitive apparatus built up over the past 50 years. To begin refocusing federal drug policies, the legislation shifts the authority for classifying and regulating controlled substances from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The legislation eliminates criminal penalties for all possession of personal-use quantities of controlled substances, and shifts federal resources away from futile enforcement strategies to supportive initiatives to protect the public health and safety.

Methamphetamine

Senators Feinstein and Grassley File Methamphetamine Response Act. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) last Thursday introduced the Methamphetamine Response Act, a bill declaring methamphetamine an emerging drug threat which would require the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to develop, implement and make public a national plan to prevent methamphetamine addiction and overdoses from becoming a crisis.

Psychedelics

Washington, DC, Natural Psychedelics Initiative Qualifies for the Ballot. The DC Board of Elections announced last Wednesday that Initiative 81, the Entheogenic Plant and Fungus Policy Act of 2020, has qualified for the November ballot. The act would effectively decriminalize the use and possession of natural psychedelics by making the enforcement of laws against them the lowest priority.

International

World Anti-Doping Association to Shorten Punishments for Recreational Drug Offenses. Beginning next January, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) will no longer issue long suspensions for athletes testing positive for recreational drugs out of competition. Instead of being banned for two years, the athletes will now be banned for one to three months. "If the athlete can establish that any ingestion or use occurred out of competition and was unrelated to sport performance, then the period of ineligibility shall be three months," WADA's new code says. "In addition, the period of ineligibility calculated... may be reduced to one month if the athlete or other person satisfactorily completes a substance of abuse treatment program approved by the Anti-Doping Organization."

British Tory Drug Reform Group Calls for Rescheduling Psilocybin. The Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group (CDPRG) has published a new report with the Adam Smith Institute outlining the potential medical benefits of psilocybin and urging the UK Home Office to reschedule the compound for research purposes. The not-for-profit group also urges the Home Office to reduce regulatory restrictions on the compound to allow for research into its medical efficacy. The report is Medicinal use of psilocybin: Reducing restrictions on research and treatment.

Colombia's Former President Uribe Placed on House Arrest During Investigation of Ties to Drug Cartels, Paramilitary Groups. Last Thursday, President Ivan Duque announced that former President Alvaro Uribe will be held in custody as the Supreme Court investigates allegations of witness tampering. Uribe, president of Colombia from 2002 to 2010, has long been accused of criminal activities, including having ties to drug cartels and paramilitary groups. He is currently accused of being a founding member of a rightist paramilitary group involved in the decades-long conflict between the government and leftist rebels.

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

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.

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