Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Chronicle AM: CA Initiative Would Legalize Magic Mushroom Sales, Senate GOP Cartel Bill, More... (12/16/19)

The latest version of California's psilocbyin decriminalization initiative turns it into a legalization initiative, a group of Senate Republicans file a bill to treat drug cartels like terrorist organizations, and more.

Under the latest language in California's magic mushroom initiative, you could buy them at a store. (CC)
Psychedelics

California Psilocybin Decriminalization Initiative Now a Legalization Initiative. The latest version of the California Psilocybin Decriminalization initiative includes language that would legalize the production and sale of magic mushrooms, as well as decriminalizing their possession and use. "The personal, spiritual, religious, dietary, therapeutic, and medical use of Psilocybin Mushrooms by adults, including but not limited to the cultivation, manufacture, processing, production of edible products and extracts (with or without solvents) derived from Psilocybin Mushrooms, distribution, transportation, possession, storage, consumption, social consumption, on-site consumption, public events, farmers' markets, and retail sale, whether or not for profit, shall be lawful in this state and is a matter of statewide concern," the initiative now says.

Asset Forfeiture

Indiana Police Used $400K In Asset Forfeiture Funds to Boost Their Own Pay and Benefits, Audit Finds. A federal audit of Indiana law enforcement's use of federal asset forfeiture funds has found that police unlawfully used nearly $400,000 of those monies to increase their own pay and benefits. The federal "equitable sharing program" that distributes the funds does not allow police to use those monies for such expenses.

Kansas Lawmakers Punt on Asset Forfeiture Reform, Seek Review Instead of Passing Legislation. After an audit this past summer criticized law enforcement for taking advantage of vague asset forfeiture laws, lawmakers debated whether to enact legislation to remedy the situation. Now, they've decided not to act this year, but to instead ask a judicial advisory group to review any potential changes. The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony last month on several measures, including one to require a conviction before property is seized, but opted to send the bills to the Kansas Judicial Council, an advisory committee in the judicial branch. Chairman Blaine Finch said the council would be able to study the bills more extensively than the Legislature would.

Foreign Policy

Senate Republicans File Bill to Impose Sanctions on Drug Cartels. Led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), a group of nine Republican senators last week filed the Significant Transnational Criminal Organization Designation Act, legislation that would subject certain foreign criminal organizations like drug cartels to sanctions, including immigration, financial and criminal penalties. The process would be similar to the system used for designating entities as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs). Passage of the bill would allow the federal government to impose on the most significant Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) the same sanctions that apply to FTOs.

International

Thai Justice Minister to Speed Up Kratom Decriminalization. Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin says he will speed up the decriminalization of kratom. He said the Justice Ministry has formed a committee to study kratom-based medicines. "I will proceed with this project as soon as possible because legalization will truly benefit society," he said. Although kratom is not considered a scheduled drug by UN treaties, it has been illegal in Thailand since 1943, with possession punishable by up to a year in jail.

Zambia Legalizes Marijuana Production, But for Export and Medical Purposes Only. The government has approved a proposal to legalize marijuana production, but it will be restricted to exports and medical purposes. The government wants a $250,000 annual license fee from companies wishing to get into the business. Approval came last Wednesday during a cabinet meeting.

Chronicle AM: NJ MJ Referendum Set to Advance, Dirty Detroit Narcs, MA Pot Vaping Resumes, More... (12/13/19)

Italy legalizes hemp and CBD products, Trinidad and Tobago moves toward marijuana decrim, New Jersey legislators are busy on two fronts, and more.

New Jersey legislators are making progress on two different fronts this week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senators Demand Update from DEA On Marijuana Growing Applications. A group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have sent a letter to the DEA, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) demanding that they provide an update on efforts to expand the number of authorized marijuana grows for research purposes. The letter notes that DEA announced more than three years ago that it would begin approving additional research grows, but has yet to issue any new licenses. The agency says the volume of new applications requires that it develop alternate rules before issuing any new licenses.

Massachusetts Pot Shops Okayed to Resume Sales of Some Vaping Products. The state's Cannabis Control Commission has amended a November ban on marijuana vaping products, now allowing stores to sell them but only if they are manufactured after this date and have been tested for contaminants.

New Jersey Legislature Holds Hearing on Marijuana Referendum. Legalization supporters outnumbered foes Thursday as the legislature held hearings in both chambers on whether to put a constitutional amendment on the November 2020 ballot letting voters decide on whether to free the weed. Votes on the measure are expected in both houses on Monday.

Expungement

New Jersey Drug Expungement Bill Headed for Monday Vote. After an Assembly committee passed a bill, A-5981, Thursday without hearing any testimony, the measure heads for floor votes in both houses on Monday. The bill would make it easier for people to rid their records of minor drug and other offenses. Under its "clean slate" provision, all prior non-serious crimes could be sealed after a decade, while those involving smalltime marijuana or hashish possession could be expunged immediately. For minor drug offenses that occur after the bill is passed, a judge would immediately remove them from a person's record.

Foreign Policy

Senate Committee Passes Resolution for Sanctions Against Philippine Officials Involved in Imprisonment of Drug War Critic Sen. Leila de Lima. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved the Free Leila resolution (Senate Resolution 142), which calls for the applications of sanctions under the Magnitsky Act against Philippines officials responsible for "orchestrating the arrest and prolonged detention" of Filipina drug war critic Sen. Leila de Lima. The resolution also calls for sanctions against members of the security forces and Philippine officials responsible for extrajudicial killings during President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war. The resolution is non-binding but signals strong revulsion toward the behavior of the Duterte government.

Law Enforcement

Detroit Narcs Accused of Corrupt Policing. A raid on the Detroit Police Department's narcotics unit in August has uncovered dirty dealing there. Investigators have found a half-dozen instances of narcs stealing money from alleged drug dealers and two where drugs were planted on suspects. One former narc was arrested the day of the raid on federal charges he took bribes from a drug dealer, and Chief James Craig said he's looking at the unit that the officer was assigned to. "Sadly, as we continue our probe, we think it's going to grow in terms of magnitude," Craig said.

International

Italy Legalizes Hemp, CBD Products. Parliament this week legalized the production and sale of cannabis products containing less than 0.5% THC. The law will go into effect January 1. Former rightist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini had vowed to shut down shops selling what the Italians call "cannabis light," but now parliament has thwarted that effort.

Trinidad and Tobago Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill. The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana. People caught with more than 30 but less than 60 grams would pay a fixed fine. The bill would also allow for the personal cultivation of up to four plants and provide a pathway for expungement of previous small-time marijuana offenses. The bill now heads for a Senate vote later this month. But it also contains provisions that would impose new penalties against possession and distribution of other substances, such as LSD, MDMA and ketamine.

Is This the Worst State in America on Drug Policy? [FEATURE]

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

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

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

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

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

But jail is just the gateway to the incarceration complex, and when it comes to long-term stays behind bars, South Dakota displays the same sort of worrying numbers. According to the ACLU of South Dakota, the state's prison population has increased more than five-fold since the beginning of the drug war era 50 years ago. And despite 2013 reforms designed to reduce the prison population, it stubbornly stays near an all-time high reached in 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's why the ACLU is supporting initiatives such as reclassifying ingestion as a misdemeanor.

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

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

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

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

West of the Mississippi, Meth -- Not Fentanyl -- Is the Deadliest Drug [FEATURE]

According to a report released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released last week, while fentanyl, heroin, and cocaine continue to account for most fatal drug overdoses in the Eastern US, it's a very different story once you cross the Mississippi River. Throughout the Western US, more people are dying from methamphetamines than those other three drugs.

crystal methamphetamine (Creative Commons)
The report, which examined the more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017, identified fentanyl as the deadliest drug nationwide, followed by heroin. Between them, the two opioids accounted for about 60 percent of all fatal overdoses. The third leading killer drug, cocaine, was involved in slightly more than 20 percent of overdoses. Meth came in fourth, accounting for 13.3 percent of overdoses nationwide.

Of the five geographic regions in the report east of the Mississippi, fentanyl was the leading killer, with heroin and cocaine alternating in second and third places. Meth never made it higher than fifth place among killer drugs in the East. It didn't even make the top 10 in Region 1 (New England) or Region 2 (New York and New Jersey), was in 7th place in Region 3 (the Mid-Atlantic states), and 5th place in Region 4 (the South) and Region 5 (the Midwest).

In the West, though, Region 7 (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska) was the only region where meth wasn't the leading cause of overdose deaths. There, it came in second behind fentanyl. But from Houston to Honolulu and San Diego to Sioux Falls, meth reigned supreme. In both Region 7 and Region 6 (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas), meth accounted for more than one-fifth of all overdose deaths, while in Region 8 (Northern Plains and Rockies), it accounted for more than a quarter of all ODs. In Region 9 (Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada) and Region 10 (Pacific Northwest and Alaska), meth was responsible for more than a third of all ODs.

Overall, the East has a significantly higher rate of drug overdose deaths. The age-adjusted death rate per 100,000 ranges from a low of 9.1 in the Southeast to a high of 22.5 in New England, while in the West, all regions except Region 7 had death rates of 1.7 or lower.

Clearly, many, many more drug users per capita are dying in the east, and the situation there, especially with fentanyl, requires and deserves serious attention. If some researchers are right, the western US is at risk of developing bigger fentanyl problems too, which could balloon opioid overdoses to even greater levels. Nevertheless, if anything is to be done about drug overdose deaths in the western US, dealing with methamphetamine is a key issue.

Chronicle AM: MLB Drug Testing Accord, US Charges Former Mexican Top Cop for Cartel Bribes, More... (12/12/19)

Major League Baseball and its players' union have reached a drug testing agreement, Wisconsin's GOP Senate leader kills a medical marijuana bill, and more.

Major League Baseball players will no longer be tested for marijuana, but now will be tested for opioids. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Kansas Residents Want Marijuana Legalization, Poll Finds. The annual Kansas Speaks survey, conducted by Fort Hayes State University, finds that 63% of respondents either "strongly support" or "somewhat support" legalizing and taxing marijuana for adult use. Only 26% "somewhat oppose" or "strongly oppose" it. The state doesn't even have legal medical marijuana yet.

Medical Marijuana

Wisconsin GOP Senate Leader Snuffs Out GOP Medical Marijuana Bill. Republicans Rep. Mary Felzowski and Sen. Kathy Bernier tried Wednesday to get a medical marijuana bill moving, only to be shot down by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald once again rejected the bill, saying he personally opposed and that he didn't think it would pass the GOP-controlled Senate.

Drug Testing

Major League Baseball, Players Union Agree on Drug Testing Policy. Major League Baseball and the players' union have agreed on a new drug testing policy that will add opioid testing for major leaguers and will not punish either minor or major league players for marijuana use. The move comes five months after the death of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs from an opioid overdose.

International

US Charges Former Mexican Top Cop with Taking Sinaloa Cartel Bribes. The US has charged former Mexican federal police overseer Genaro Garcia Luna with taking millions of dollars in bribes from Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel. He was arrested Monday in Texas after being indicted last week by a federal grand jury in Brooklyn on three counts of cocaine trafficking conspiracy and one count of making false statements for helping the cartel operate "with impunity" in Mexico. Garcia Luna served as Mexico's secretary of public security from 2006 to 2012 and has been living in the United States since 2012. If convicted, he faces a minimum of 10 years in prison and the maximum of a life sentence.

How to Legalize Ecstasy -- and Why [FEATURE]

Every weekend, hundreds of thousands of young club- and concert-goers buy and consume black market pills and powders they hope are MDMA, the methamphetamine relative with a psychedelic tinge known on the streets as Ecstasy or Molly. A tiny percentage of them -- a few dozen each year in the United States or Britain -- die. It doesn't have to be that way.

Ecstasy pills (Erowid.org)
Granted, those numbers are miniscule when compared with the tens of thousands who die each year in the US using opioids, benzos, and stimulants like cocaine and meth, much less from the legal substances alcohol and tobacco. But that relative handful of deaths could almost certainly be eliminated by bringing Ecstasy in from the cold -- making it legal and regulated instead of subjecting its users to black market Russian roulette.

And now somebody has a plan for that. The British Beckley Foundation, which has been advocating for research into psychoactive substance and evidence-based drug policy reform for the past two decades, has just released a new report, Roadmaps to Regulation: MDMA, that takes a good, hard look at the drug and charts a path to a saner, less harmful way of handling Ecstasy than just prohibiting it, which, the report notes, "has never meaningfully disrupted its supply, nor its widespread use."

That's because, despite it being illegal, for many, many people, Ecstasy is fun. And the Beckley report does something rare in the annals of drug policy wonkery: it acknowledges that. "Hundreds of thousands of people break the law to access its effects, which include increased energy, euphoria, and enhanced sociability," the report says.

The authors concede that Ecstasy is not a harmless substance, and take a detailed dive into acute, sub-acute, and chronic harms related to its use. They point to overheating (hyperthermia) and excess water intake (hypnoatraemia) as the cause of most Ecstasy deaths, and they examine the debate over neurotoxicity associated with the drug, very carefully pointing out that "there is evidence to suggest that heavy use of MDMA may contribute to temporary impairments in neuropsychological functions."

But they also point out that most of the problems with Ecstasy are artifacts of prohibition: "Our evidence shows that many harms associated with MDMA use arise from its unregulated status as an illegal drug, and that any risks inherent to MDMA could be more effectively mitigated within a legally regulated market," they write.

The most serious harmful effect of treating Ecstasy use and sales as a criminal matter is that users are forced into an unregulated, no-quality-control black market and they don't know what they're getting. Tablets have been found with as little as 20 milligrams of MDMA and as much as 300 milligrams. And much of what is sold as MDMA is actually adulterated with other substance, including some much more lethal ones, such as PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine) and PMMA (paramethoxymethamphetamine). This is how people die. As the authors note:

"The variability in MDMA potency and purity is a direct result of global and national prohibitionist policies. Recent developments around in situ drug safety testing are an attempt to mitigate the risks of such variability. These risks, such as overdose and/or poisoning, are by no means inevitable or inherent to the drug. If MDMA were clinically produced and legally distributed, users would be assured of the product content and appropriate dosage and be able to make more informed decisions regarding their MDMA use. In this way the principal risks we associate with MDMA use would be greatly reduced."

But the report also addresses a whole litany of other prohibition-related harms around Ecstasy that exacerbate the risks of its use. From making users less likely to seek medical help for fear of prosecution to making venues adopt "zero tolerance" policies that actually increase risks (such as drug dog searches that encourage users to take all their drugs at once before entering the venue) to the rejection of pill testing and other harm reduction measures, prohibition just makes matters worse.

In addition to harms exacerbated by prohibition, there are harms created by prohibition. These include "a lucrative illegal MDMA market that generates wealth for entrenched criminal organizations," the saddling of young users with criminal records, the risk that people who share or sell drugs among their friends could be charged as drug dealers, and the development of black markets for new psychoactive substances (NSPs), many of which are more dangerous than Ecstasy. Also not to be forgotten is the loss of decades of research opportunities into the therapeutic use of MDMA, research that was showing tremendous potential before the drug was prohibited in the mid-1980s.

Prohibition of Ecstasy is not only not working but is making matters worse. So what should we do instead? Beckley is very clear in its conclusions and recommendations. First, these preliminary steps:

  • Reschedule MDMA from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act (the Misuse of Drugs Regulations in Britain) in order to reduce barriers to research and to improve our understanding of its physiological effects.
  • "Decriminalize the possession of MDMA and all drugs to remove the devastating social and economic effects of being criminalized for drug possession or limited social supply."
  • Use decriminalization to comprehensively roll out drug safety testing (pill testing) and other proven harm reduction measures.

Once those preliminary steps are done, it's time to break big:

  • Award licenses to selected pharmaceutical manufacturers to produce MDMA under strict manufacturing requirements.
  • Allow licensed MDMA products to be sold at government licensed MDMA outlets. The report suggests pharmacies in the first instance.
  • For harm reduction purposes, retail outlet staff would need to be specially trained to educate users on the risks associated with MDMA.
  • Users who wish to purchase licensed MDMA products would be required to obtain a "personal license" to do so. Such a license would be granted after an interview with trained sales staff demonstrates that the would-be user understands the risks and how to reduce them.
  • Develop adults-only MDMA-friendly spaces where the risks associated with the drug can be combatted with the full panoply of harm reduction measures.
  • "User controls" to encourage responsible MDMA use. These would include "a strictly enforced age limit, pricing controls, mandated health information on packaging and at point of sale, childproof and tamperproof packaging, a comprehensive ban on marketing and advertising, and a campaign to minimize the social acceptability of driving under the influence of MDMA and to promote alternatives such as designated drivers."
  • "Sales of MDMA would be permitted to adults over 18 years of age. Prohibitive penalties would be in place to restrict underage sales."
  • Education campaigns focusing on MDMA safety and responsible use that would cover sales outlets and schools and universities. Such campaigns would include information about how to recognize and manage adverse events related to MDMA products.
  • Monitor and evaluate the impact of these changes to continue an evidence-based approach and allow feedback into policymaking.

There you have it, a step-by-step plan to break with prohibitionist orthodoxy and create a legal, regulated market for a popular recreational drug. Whether you or I agree with every plank of the plan, it is indeed a roadmap to reform. The evidence is there, a plan is there; now all we need is the political pressure to make it happen somewhere. It could be the United Kingdom, it could be the United States, it could be the Netherlands, but once somebody gets it done, the dam will begin to burst.

Chronicle AM: US Afghan Opium Fiasco, New Zealand LSD Microdosing Trials, More... (12/11/19)

Expungements for past minor pot offenses are beginning in Chicago, clinical trials on LSD microdosing are about to get underway in New Zealand, Kentucky's new Democratic governor moves to restore voting rights for ex-felons, and more.

The opium poppy defeated all American efforts to suppress it in Afghanistan, US officials have conceded. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois' Largest County Begins Marijuana Expungements. Cook County (Chicago) State's Attorney Kim Foxx filed the first motions Wednesday to expunge past low-level marijuana convictions under provisions of the state's marijuana legalization law. The law allows for people convicted of possession of under 30 grams prior to legalization to have their records referred for pardon and expungement, providing they were nonviolent offenses. People convicted of possession of more than 30 grams or who committed a violent offense will have to have their convictions reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Hundreds of thousands could see their convictions cleared.

Vermont Should Legalize Marijuana Sales, Top Health Official Says. Cynthia Seivwright, director of the state Department of Health’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs, said Monday allowing legal marijuana sales in the state would better protect public health than current policy does. The state has legalized possession and cultivation, but not sales. "Without the regulation, we don’t know what’s in it," Seivwright said. "We can’t control the potency of it. We can’t control the access, and we definitely don’t want children and adolescents to have access to it….We at the Health Department support a regulated system."

Psychedelics

New Zealand to Host First Clinical Trial on LSD Microdosing. Researchers at the University of Auckland have received final approval for clinical trials on the effects of microdosing. The researchers aim to discover whether microdosing can have positive effects on mood, creativity, and awareness. "Users report improvements in mood, wellbeing, improved attention and cognition, so those are the things we will be measuring… We’ll be giving microdoses on very tightly controlled prescriptions to take at home — it’ll be a more realistic assessment of what microdosing actually does," said lead researcher Suresh Muthukumaraswamy

Foreign Policy

Documents Show US Officials Said Almost Everything They Did to Fight Opium in Afghanistan Backfired. In a cache of confidential government interviews and other documents obtained by the Washington Post, dozens of American military and political officials admitted that their efforts to dismantle the Afghan opium economy did not work, and in many cases made things worse. The Post reported that "of all the failures in Afghanistan, the war on drugs has been perhaps the most feckless."

Sentencing Policy

Kentucky Governor to Restore Voting Rights to 100,000 Ex-Felons. Gov. Andy Beshear (D) vowed during his inaugural address Tuesday to restore voting rights to Kentuckians with felony convictions. That could mean as many as 100,000 new voters for the Bluegrass State. Kentucky is one of only two states that have lifetime bans on voting for ex-felons (the other is Iowa). Beshear is finishing work started by his father, Steve, who while governor back in 2015 issued an executive order to restore voting rights to 100,000 convicted felons. But that order was suspended by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin days after taking office in 2016.

Chronicle AM: House Resolution Condemns Racist Drug War, Prison Racial Disparities Shrink, More.... (12/10/19)

Michigan legal pot sales are off to a hot start, a House resolution demands Congress apologize for racist drug war, a new report finds declining racial disparities in incarceration, and more. 

The Wolverine state is embracing legal marijuana if early sales figures are any indication. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Major League Baseball on Verge on Okaying Marijuana Use. The league has already abandoned testing for marijuana for the major leagues, but now it and the players' union have reportedly agreed to remove it from the list of banned substances for minor leaguers as well as part of a wider deal involving opioid use in baseball. Until now, minor league players had been subject to a 25-game suspension for the first positive pot test, 50 games for the second, 100 games for the third, and a lifetime ban for a fourth offense. This isn't a done deal yet, but both sides said they hoped it would be by year's end.

Michigan Legal Marijuana Sales Off to Roaring Start. After only eight days of legal marijuana sales, Michiganders have bought more than $1.6 million worth of weed. And that's in only five retail shops already open in the state. Three of those shops either sold out their inventory or had only limited supplies of marijuana products. That $1.6 million in sales brought in more than $270,000 for the state in the form of marijuana excise and sales taxes. The state House Fiscal Agency estimates that once the legal marijuana market is fully established, sales will approach $950 million annually, with the state taking in $152 million in pot taxes each year.

Drug Policy

Lawmakers File Resolution Demanding Congress Apologize for Racist War on Drugs. House members led by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) introduced a House resolution on Friday calling on Congress to admit that the war on drugs has been a racially biased failure, provide justice to those negatively impacted by it and apologize to communities most impacted under prohibition. The resolution says "the House of Representatives should immediately halt any and all actions that would allow the War on Drugs to continue." It has 20 sponsors, including Karen Bass (D-CA), who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus.

Sentencing Policy

Racial Disparities in Incarceration Narrow, But Black People Still More Likely to Be Imprisoned, Study Finds. A new report from the Council on Criminal Justice finds that racial disparities in incarceration rates shrank between 2000 and 2016, but that blacks were still five times more likely to be incarcerated than whites. The black-white imprisonment ratio dropped from 8.3-to-1 in 2000 to 5.1-to-1 in 2016. On a less positive note, black defendants are getting longer state prison sentences even as the number of arrests or incarcerations among black people steadily decreases.

Chronicle AM: OR Drug Decriminalization Initiative, ND Marijuana Legalization Initiative, More... (12/6/19)

A second North Dakota pot legalization initiative has submitted language to state officials, the Beckley Foundation publishes a report on getting to legal Ecstasy, and more.

Britain's Beckley Foundation has published a report that is a roadmap to legal, regulated Ecstasy markets. (Erowid.org)
Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Submits Language. A group that wants to legalize marijuana has submitted its initiative language to state election officials for their approval. Legalize ND's initiative would legalize the possession of up to two ounces by people 21 and over, allow localities to opt out of allowing marijuana sales, and ban personal cultivation. It would also impose a 10% excise tax on marijuana sales. State officials now have seven days to review the initiative and decide whether to approve it for circulation. Once that happens, the group would have to come up with 13,452 valid voter signatures by July 6, 2020, to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.

Ecstasy

Beckley Foundation Issues Report on Creating a Legal, Regulated Market for MDMA. The Britain-based Beckley Foundation has published an innovative report, Roadmaps to Regulation: MDMA, that maps out how a strictly regulated market for MDMA products could work. The report covers the risks and harms associated with MDMA use as well as setting out the benefits of alternative, non-prohibitionist policies for the future.

Drug Decriminalization

Oregon Drug Decriminalization Initiative Begins Signature Gathering.Signature gathering has begun for an initiative that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs. The 2020 Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act (Initiative Petition #44) needs 112,020 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. Proponents said they would see how signature gathering goes for the next month before deciding whether to press forward.

Chronicle AM: Yang on Safe Injection Sites, Bloomberg on Marijuana, More... (12/5/19)

Michigan pot shops see high demand on opening day, Democratic contenders stake out drug policy positions, Maine finally has all pot business applications ready, and more.

Andrew Yang wants to decriminalize opiates and fund safe injection sites like this one in Vancouver. (vch.ca)

Marijuana Policy

Michael Bloomberg Backs Decriminalization as Marijuana Views Evolve Amid Presidential Run. Faced with criticism over his past positions on marijuana, former New York City mayor and Democratic presidential contender Michael Bloomberg has now come out in support of decriminalization, which still leaves him lagging behind most of the Democratic pack. "He believes no one should have their life ruined by getting arrested for possession, and, as a part of his reform efforts that drove incarceration down by 40 percent, he worked to get New York State laws changed to end low-level possession arrests," a spokesman said. "He believes in decriminalization and doesn’t believe the federal government should interfere with states that have already legalized."

Maine Says All Marijuana Licenses are Now Available. More than three years after voters legalized marijuana, the state has finally made available all applications for marijuana cultivation, products manufacturing and retail facilities. That means the state could see pot shops open by the spring.

Michigan Pot Shops Forced to Impose Purchase Limits as Demand Overwhelms. High customer volume is forcing marijuana retailers to limit purchases so there will be enough weed to go around. The four shops that opened Sunday saw combined sales of $221,000 that first day. Each of the four shops has had to turn customers away, too. Some customers waited as long as four hours to get inside.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Senator Introduces Bill Providing Broad Employment Protections to Medical Marijuana Users. A bill recently introduced by state Sen. Lori Berman (D) Would provide various protections to job applicants and employees who use medical marijuana. The measure is Senate Bill 962.

Harm Reduction

Andrew Yang Calls for Investments in Safe Injection Sites. Entrepreneur and Democratic presidential contender Andrew Yang says he supports government funding for safe injections sites as part of an effort to counter the country's overdose epidemic. "I would not only decriminalize opiates for personal use but I would also invest in safe consumption sites around the country," Yang said Thursday.

(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.)

Chronicle AM: NH Senate Panels Kill Legal Pot, MMJ Expansion Bills; Fed Agency Eases Hiring Rules, More... (12/4/19)

The US Virgin Islands could be moving toward marijuana legalization, but New Hampshire isn't--at least for now. 

The New Hampshire Senate is not ready to go further with legal pot or expanding medical marijuana. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Senate Committee Votes to Kill Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Democratically-led Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to effectively kill a House-approved bill, HB 481, that would have legalized marijuana. The committee recommended that the full Senate send the bill to interim study, a polite way of killing it. If the Senate approves the recommendation next year, legalization backers would have to start over in 2021.

US Virgin Islands Ponders Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Albert Bryan is considering legalizing marijuana as a means of propping up the government employees' pension system with an estimated $20 a year in annual pot tax revenues. He is moving to add recreational legalization to a medical marijuana bill that is already being considered by lawmakers. Marijuana taxes would be set at a whopping 30%, expungement would be included, and so would language recognizing Rastararians' sacramental use.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Senate Committee Votes to Kill Medical Marijuana Expansion. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 3-1 to recommend killing SB 175, which would dramatically expand the number of patients who could receive medical marijuana. Currently, only people with a handful of qualifying conditions are eligible for medical marijuana.

Employment

Federal Agency Issues Policy to Improve Hiring Conditions for People With Drug Convictions. The National Credit Union Administration has adopted a new policy that makes it easier for people with past drug convictions and other simple crimes to be employed by credit unions. Under the old policy, anyone with a past criminal offense was barred "from participating in the affairs of an insured credit union," but now, exemptions have been carved out for a number of minor offenses including simple drug possession. "Offering second chances to those who are truly penitent is consistent with our nation's shared values of forgiveness and redemption," the NCUA said. 

Chronicle AM: New Zealand Marijuana Legalization Referendum Coming, SD Hemp Fight, More... (12/3/19)

South Dakota lawmakers are moving toward trying again to legalize industrial hemp, New Zealand provides information on a coming marijuana legalization referendum, and more.

Hemp

South Dakota Lawmakers Vote to Try Again on Hemp Legalization. Legislators voted 10-1 Monday to try again next year to legalize industrial hemp. This year, the legislature passed a hemp bill, only to see it vetoed by Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who warned it would open the way to marijuana legalization. Lawmakers in the Senate fell four votes short of overriding her veto. 

International

Brazil Approves Medical Marijuana Rules. The country's pharmaceutical regulator, Anvisa, on Tuesday approved regulations for medical marijuana-based products but blocked a proposal to allow it to be grown in-country. Brazilian companies that seek to manufacture marijuana-based products will have to import their inputs from abroad. The new rules will be published in the official gazette shortly and will go into effect 90 days after that.

New Zealand Releases Information on Looming Marijuana Legalization Referendum. A government website with information on a pending voter referendum to legalize marijuana has gone live. The government has promised a public vote on the Cannabis Legalization and Control Bill it drafted (the final draft will come early next year). Voters will be asked a straight Yes/No question: Do you support the proposed Cannabis Legalization and Control Bill? A firm election date hasn't been set yet, but it must happen by November 21, 2020 at the latest.

Chronicle AM: CA Magic Mushroom Initiative Seeks Signatures, MI Legal Pot Sales Begin, More... (12/2/19)

Michigan's era of legal marijuana sales begins, a California magic mushroom decriminalization initiative is cleared for signature gathering, and more.

Will magic mushrooms be on the California state ballot next year? Stay tuned. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan's First Day of Legal Pot Sales Sees Lines of Customers Hundreds of People Long. The era of legal recreational marijuana sales took off with a boom Sunday as would-be customers formed lines hundreds of people long to purchase their newly legal weed. Some shops limited sales amounts in a bid to save some for later customers and in Ann Arbor lines remained long outside shops all day.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Wisconsin Bill Package Seeks to Address Opioid Epidemic. Legislators have filed or will file seven different bills as part of the state's ongoing Heroin, Opioid Prevention (HOPE) Agenda, which has already seen 30 bills passed during the past five years. One bill would start Medicaid coverage of acupuncture, which would require federal approval. Another one would require the Medical Examining Board to issue guidelines for treating neonatal abstinence syndrome. A third bill would continue a law giving immunity from some drug crimes to people who seek help for others suffering overdoses, and to the people receiving help if they complete a drug treatment program. Another bill would create a registry of approved recovery residences, while yet another would extend provisions of the state's prescription drug monitoring program.

Psychedelics

California Psilocybin Mushroom Initiative Cleared for Signature Gathering. An initiative that would decriminalize the possession, use, and gifting of magic mushrooms and the chemical compounds—psilocybin and psilocin—has been cleared for signature gathering. Decriminalize California, the group behind the initiative, has until April 21 to come up with 623,212 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.

International

British Drug Treatment Providers Call for Radical Drug Policy Reforms. Major drug treatment providers are calling on the next government to be "brave and radical" in changing drug laws they describe as "not fit for the modern world." Britain's largest treatment provider, Change Grow Live, called for an independent commission to revamp "incredibly outdated" drug laws Change Grow Live was joined by Addaction, Turning Point and Humankind. The four are responsible for the vast majority of drug treatment support in the United Kingdom. They urge the next government to take whatever policy prescriptions the commission would produce, up to an including drug decriminalization.

Chronicle AM: NJ Governor Now Calls for Pot Decrim, MA Bans Flavored Vaping Products, More... (11/27/19)

Mexico responds to President Trump's move to designate cartels as terrorist organizations, Massachusetts becomes the first state to ban flavored vaping products, and more. 

No flavored vapes for Massachusetts residents. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Governor Calls for Decriminalization as Interim Measure. With little chance of marijuana legalization until a proposed November 2020 voter referendum, Gov. Phil Murphy (D), a legalization proponent, has now announced he supports decriminalization as a short-term solution. In a Tuesday statement, Murphy said decriminalization "cannot be our long-term solution" but would provide "critical short-term relief" until voters weigh in next November. "Maintaining a status quo sees roughly 600 individuals, disproportionately people of color, arrested in New Jersey every week for low-level drug offenses is wholly unacceptable," Murphy said.

Foreign Policy

Trump Says He Will Designate Mexican Drug Cartels as Terrorists. President Donald Trump said Tuesday he will designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations. "They will be designated ... I have been working on that for the last 90 days. You know, designation is not that easy, you have to go through a process, and we are well into that process," Trump said. The move comes after nine US citizens were killed by suspected cartel members in northern Mexico earlier this month. Earlier, Trump offered in a tweet to help Mexico "wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth" in the aftermath of that attack.

Vaping

Massachusetts Bans Flavored Tobacco, Vaping Products. The state has become the first to ban the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products, including menthol cigarettes after Gov. Charlie Baker (R) signed the ban into law. Flavored vaping products are banned immediately, while the ban on menthol smokes goes into effect on June 1.

International

Mexico Rejects US Interventionism in Wake of Trump Designating Cartels Terrorists. Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Wednesday rejected US "interventionism" after US President Donald Trump said he was working on designating Mexican drug trafficking organizations as terrorists. Lopez Obrador said he was sending his foreign minister to Washington to lead talks after the Thanksgiving holiday. "Cooperation, yes, intervention, no," Lopez Obrador said in a morning news conference when asked about Trump’s comments.

Chronicle AM: Biden Walks Back Pot "Gateway Theory" Remarks, Philippines VP Warns Duterte on Drug War, More... (11/26/19)

Facing criticism, Joe Biden walks back his marijuana "gateway theory" remarks; the FDA designated psilocybin therapy a "breakthrough therapy" for the second time, and more. 

Filipino President Duterte is being called out on his drug war by Vice President Robredo. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Joe Biden Walks Back Marijuana ‘Gateway Drug’ Comment After Week of Criticism. Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden now says there "no evidence" marijuana is a gateway drug. That's a retreat from his widely criticized comments last week suggesting that it was a gateway drug. "I don’t think it is a gateway drug. There’s no evidence I’ve seen to suggest that," Biden said Monday in response to a reporter's question.

Psychedelics

FDA Calls Psychedelic Psilocybin a 'Breakthrough Therapy' for Severe Depression. For the second time this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has designated therapy with psilocybin a "breakthrough therapy," which will help accelerate the typically slow-moving process of drug development and review. Such a designation is only granted when preliminary evidence suggests it may be a significant improvement over existing therapies.

International

Philippines VP, Fired as Drug Czar, Warns Duterte. Vice President Leni Robredo, a critic of President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war who he hired and then fired as head of an inter-agency anti-drug panel, has vowed to carry on her fight against Duterte's draconian drug policies. "When I took this job, I asked you, are you ready for me? My question to you now is what are you afraid of? Are you afraid of what I might discover? Are you afraid of what the public might discover?," Robredo said at a news conference. "If they think I will stop here, then they don't know me, I am just starting", Robredo said. "They cannot remove my determination to stop the killings and hold those responsible to account and win the fight against illegal drugs."

Trinidad and Tobago Marijuana Reform Bills Filed. Two government-backed marijuana reform bills were filed in parliament last Friday. One bill would decriminalize possession of up to 30 grams of weed but would also include new penalties for possession and sale of other drugs, such as LSD, MDMA, and ketamine. It also allows for the growth of four plants for personal use but specifies they must be male plants, which do not produce buds. The second bill would legalize the use, sale, and distribution of marijuana for medical, research, and religious purposes.

(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.)

Chronicle AM: CA Pot Tax Increase Coming, MI Bans Pot Vaping Products Until Retested, More... (11/25/19)

California pot taxes will increase come January 1, Michigan halts sales of pot vaping products until they get retested, and more. 

California's struggling legal marijuana industry will get another dose of taxation in the new year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Pot Taxes Set to Go Up in New Year. California tax officials announced last Thursday that marijuana excise and cultivation taxes will go up on January 1. The state Department of Tax and Fee Administration announced that the markup rate for the excise tax will increase from 60% to 80%, while cultivation taxes will rise by 4.3% for flowers and leaves and 8% for fresh marijuana plant material. The move comes as the legal pot industry in the state complains that is it being outcompeted by black market actors, who don't pay taxes.

Vaping

Michigan Halts Sales of Marijuana Vaping Products Until Retested. State regulators have temporarily halted the sale of marijuana products intended for vaping so that they can be tested for a compound linked to lung illnesses. The Marijuana Regulatory Agency issued the emergency rules last Friday. "It is absolutely vital that patients and consumers know, with certainty, the ingredients in the products that they are using," Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said in a written statement. "These rules require stringent testing and will continue to prioritize the health and safety of Michiganders."

International                  

Philippines President Fires Rival He Named Drug Czar Less Than Three Weeks Ago. President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday fired Vice President Mario Leonor Robredo from her position as drug czar, a position he named her to less than three weeks ago. Duterte accused Robredo of embarrassing the country by drawing international attention to his bloody war on drugs. Robredo has infuriated Duterte by criticizing "senseless killings" during his crackdown on drugs that has left thousands dead.

Chronicle AM: CBS News Pot Poll, MA Senate Kills Car Seizure Provision in Anti-Vaping Bill, More... (11/21/19)

There's another national pot poll showing a strong majority for legalization, an Arizona poll shows majority support, too; the ONDCP announces some opioid crisis spending initiatives, and more.

"Got any untaxed vaping products in there, son?" (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

CBS News Poll Hits Record High in Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new CBS News poll has support for marijuana legalization at 65%, an all-time high for the CBS poll and in line with other recent polling. Now, even a majority (56%) of Republicans favor it and even among Americans over 65 legalization has more support than opposition.

Arizona Poll Has a Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from OH Predictive Insights has support for marijuana legalization among registered voters at 54%, with only 33% opposed. The poll comes as at least two different legalization initiative campaigns are vying to get on the 2020 ballot. A 2016 legalization initiative was narrowly defeated.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

ONDCP Announces More Than $4 Million in Grants for Local Programs Combating the Opioid Crisis. Today, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director Jim Carroll announced $4.5 million in grants to help local programs counter the effects of the opioid crisis in their communities. ONDCP, the University of Baltimore, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collaboratively selected 14 programs in areas of the United States to receive “Combating Opioid Overdose through Community-Level Intervention (COOCLI)” grants. The projects, which will be overseen by the University of Baltimore, will employ a range of approaches such as identifying individuals most at risk of overdosing, supporting medication-assisted treatment in jails, collaborating with public safety agencies, and connecting high-risk pregnant and postpartum women and their children to opioid use disorder care coordination services.

Vaping

Massachusetts Senate Strips Vehicle Seizure Provision from Vaping Bill. The state Senate on Wednesday amended a bill banning flavored tobacco and taxing e-cigarettes to remove a provision that would have allowed the police to seize the vehicle of anyone driving with untaxed vaping products in the car. State law allows the seizure of vehicles in which untaxed cigarettes and tobacco products are found (!). This bill would have extended that provision to vaping products, but was removed on a 39-0 vote after lawmakers raised concerns about proportionality. 

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A West Virginia narc goes down for stealing heroin from the evidence room and giving it to his snitches, a New Jersey federal prison guard gets caught in a years-long smuggling scheme, and more. Let's get to it:

In Houston, a Harris County Sheriff's Office detention officer was arrested Sunday on a variety of drug charges. Officer Jason Flores, 19, came to work in possession of methamphetamine and Xanax and is now charged with five felonies, including manufacture and delivery of a controlled substance, possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, and possession of a prohibited substance in a correctional facility.

In Newark, New Jersey, a federal prison guard pleaded guilty last Thursday to taking cash bribes to smuggle drugs to prisoners at the Federal Correctional Institution at Fort Dix. Paul Anton Wright, 34, admitted smuggling tobacco, synthetic cannabinoids, and suboxone into the prison for four years and also admitted taking as much as $50,000 in bribes, which he agreed to forfeit as part of his plea agreement. He'll be sentenced in February.

In Clarksburg, West Virginia, a former Harrison County sheriff's deputy was convicted last Friday of distributing heroin to confidential informants. Timothy Rock, 41, who worked for the department's Street Crimes and Drugs Unit, had already been found guilty in state court on 18 counts related to falsifying documents to cover up his theft of heroin from the evidence room to provide to his informants, but then was indicted on the federal charges. At trial, he was convicted of four counts of distribution of heroin. He's looking at up to 20 years in prison on each of the heroin counts.

 

America's Afghanistan Anti-Drug Boondoggle Nears the $9 Billion Mark [FEATURE]

The amount of money the US government has spent trying to wipe out Afghan opium since it invaded the country in 2002 has now reached $8.94 billion, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) noted in his latest quarterly report to Congress on October 30.

Nine billion dollars later, Afghanistan's opium production rolls on undaunted. (UNODC)
Afghanistan is far and away the world's largest opium producer and has been for the entire period since the US invaded and occupied the country in late 2001. According to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's (UNODC) 2018 Afghan Opium Survey, Afghan farmers were cultivating about 150,000 acres of opium poppies in the late 1990s, but around 300,000 acres a year in the mid-2000s.

As the US occupation dragged on, opium cultivation generally climbed throughout the 2010s, peaking at more than 800,000 acres in 2017. That equates to about nine tons of raw opium produced that year, with the heroin produced from it going into the veins of addicts and others from Lahore to London.

The SIGAR report also noted that although drought had caused poppy cultivation to drop by 20% last year, "it remained at the second-highest level since the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) began monitoring it in 1994."

So, despite spending nearly $9 billion, the US war on Afghan opium has not only not succeeded but has seen the poppy foe steadily gain ground. And even though drought struck the crop in 2018, opium still exceeded the value of all of Afghanistan's licit exports combined and accounted for between 6 and 11 percent of its Gross Domestic Product.

For Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and a long-time observer of US policies aimed at drug producing countries -- not just Afghanistan -- the SIGAR report spoke volumes.

"Over a similar period in Colombia, the US wasted $10 billion," he said. "I guess we can conclude the drug war failed more efficiently in Afghanistan."

To be fair, the US effort against opium has faced huge hurdles. Because of its crucial role in the national economy, providing hundreds of thousands of jobs to farm workers and incomes to farmers, moves to suppress the crop meet entrenched resistance -- and that's where the national government is in control.

But the Taliban controls roughly half the country, and in those areas, it doesn't try to repress the opium trade, but instead taxes it. According to a BBC report, the Taliban generates somewhere between $100 million and $400 million from taxes on opium farmers, producers, and traders. That's not the bulk of Taliban revenues, but it is a significant boost for the insurgency.

When it comes to suppressing illicit drug crops, there are three main approaches: eradication, interdiction, and alternative development. According to the new SIGAR report, all three have proven ineffectual in Afghanistan.

Interdiction -- the effort to suppress the trade by arresting traffickers and seizing drugs -- has been the bailiwick of Afghan security forces funded by the US. But the SIGAR report notes that despite their "strong performance" and their "improved capabilities over the years," activities have had "minimal impact on the country's opium cultivation and production." It notes that all opium seizures since 2002 only add up to about 8 percent of the production of the single year of 2018.

Eradication isn't going very well, either. With the Afghan government announcing early this year that is was abolishing the Ministry of Counter Narcotics and moving its functions to other government entities, essentially no eradication took place this year, the SIGAR report round. Only about one thousand acres were eradicated last year and two thousand the year before. And Helmand province, the biggest poppy producer, saw no eradication at all between 2016 and 2018.

"Eradication efforts have had minimal impact on curbing opium-poppy cultivation," the SIGAR report concluded. "The Afghan government has struggled to perform eradication due to the security challenges in poppy-growing areas. Since 2008, on average, annual eradication efforts resulted in eradicating only 2% of the total yearly opium-poppy cultivation."

That may not be a bad thing, said Tree.

"Forced eradication usually forces peasant farmers into food insecurity," he explained. "Panic sets in. How will they feed their families next week, next month, or next year? What's the one crop they know how to grow, for which there ready and willing buyers, and doesn't require transportation infrastructure like bulky fruits and vegetables? Of course, farmers replant! But this time, they've had to borrow money from traffickers to survive and they become even more ensnared in the drug economy."

The third leg of the anti-drug effort is alternative development. But of the nearly $9 billion the US has invested in the Afghan drug war, less than 5 percent has gone to such programs. The USAID Regional Agricultural Development Plan has received $221 million since 2002, while another $173 million has been spent on alternative development programs. The Defense Department, meanwhile, spent $4.57 billion on counternarcotics during the same period.

But alternative development efforts seem to be waning. An important program, the Good Performers Initiative, which sought to encourage provincial level anti-drug efforts ended this year with the transfer of its last two programs to the Afghan government. But even here, the SIGAR report found, "the program was deemed ineffectual at curbing opium cultivation."

It appears that no matter how many billions the US spends to wipe out Afghan opium, its money flushed down the drain. Maybe it's time to try something different.

Chronicle AM: Historic House Committee Pot Legalization Vote, AMA Calls for Total Vaping Ban, More... (11/20/19)

A congressional committee has for the first time passed a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition, the American Medical Association calls for a ban on vaping products, and more.

The AMA wants to create a new prohibition with its call for a ban on vaping. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization Bill Approved by Congressional Committee in Historic Vote.The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to approve the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, marking the first time a bill that would end federal marijuana prohibition has been approved by a congressional committee. The act passed on a vote of 24-10. The act would federally deschedule marijuana, expunge records of prior marijuana arrests, and impose a five percent tax on sales, with proceeds to be reinvested in communities most impacted by drug prohibition. Next stop is a House floor vote.

Michigan Issues First Recreational Marijuana Business Licenses. Michiganders are just days away from being able to legally purchase marijuana at retail outlets after state regulators issued the first recreational pot business licenses Tuesday. The state Marijuana Regulatory Agency issued the first retail license to Exclusive Brands in Ann Arbor, with sales set to begin December 1. It also issued a growing license to Exclusive Brands and another license to a company that wants to hold marijuana-themed events.

Vaping

AMA Calls for Total Ban on All E-Cigarettes, Vaping Products. The American Medical Association (AMA) called Tuesday for an immediate ban on all electronic cigarettes and vaping devices. The AMA cited increased teen use of e-cigs. "It's simple, we must keep nicotine products out of the hands of young people." Dr. Patrice Harris, AMA's president, said in a statement. The AMA also cited the recent outbreak of vaping-related illnesses linked primarily to black market THC vaping. That outbreak has "shined a light on the fact that we have very little evidence about the short- and long-term health consequences of e-cigarettes and vaping products," Harris said. About 2,100 people have gotten sick; 42 have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Chronicle AM: AOC Calls for Drug Decriminalization, SD Meth Awareness Campaign Fiasco, More... (11/19/19)

Garden State voters may get the chance to legalize marijuana themselves, a South Dakota meth awareness campaign gets mocked, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calls for drug decriminalization, and more. 

This South Dakota meth awareness campaign is generating mockery and ridicule.
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Senate Democrats File Bill to Put Marijuana Legalization to Public Vote. State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) and state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill Monday to allow the public to vote directly on whether to legalize marijuana. Democratic Assembly leaders said they will sponsor similar legislation. The Democratic Senate leaders said they had given up on trying to pass legalization through the legislature after a year of trying.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Supreme Court Rules People on Probation Can Use Medical Marijuana. The state Supreme Court has overruled a trial judge who required that defendants have a doctor testify in court testify in support of their medical marijuana use. The Supreme Court held that the practice violates the state constitution. The judge in the case had deferred to a "standing procedure" of the El Paso County District Attorney's office, but the high court "disapproved" of the decision, saying the state's medical marijuana law "creates a presumption that a defendant who is sentenced to a term of probation may use medical marijuana."

 Florida Bill Would Protect Patients' Employment Rights. Rep. Tina Polsky (D- Boca Raton) has filed a bill that wouldprovide some employment protections to people who use medical marijuana. House Bill 595 would bar employers from discriminating against, firing, demoting, or taking any other "adverse personnel action" against employees who are card-carrying medical marijuana users. Exceptions include workers performing safety-sensitive job duties such as operating machinery, fighting fires, driving, carrying a firearm, handling hazardous materials, or caring for children or patients. If confronted with positive drug test results, job applicants would be able to use doctors' recommendations or state-issued cards as proof of legal use.

Methamphetamines

South Dakota Anti-Meth Campaign Sparks Ridicule. The state has spent $499,000 on an anti-meth public campaign called "Meth. We're on it" that features state residents ranging from ranchers to high school football players pictured beneath that phrase. The rollout of the campaign has sparked considerable online ridicule and mockery with posters suggesting alternatives such as "Meth: Just Do It" "Meth: for Real Men" "Meth: Fun, Cheap, Wacky" "Meth: Bringing Families Together" "Meth: You Should Buy Some and Use It" and "Got Meth?" But Gov. Kristi Noem (R) said Monday that all the attention only showed that the campaign was working.

Drug Policy

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Calls for Drug Decriminalization. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called Sunday for the decriminalization of all drugs, going a step beyond her previous support for the decriminalization of psychedelics. "Marijuana should be legalized, and drug consumption should be decriminalized," she tweeted.
"These are matters of public health."

Chronicle AM: House Committee to Vote on Legal Pot Bill This Week, Bolivia Violence, More... (11/18/19)

We could see a historic congressional vote on marijuana legalization this week, Joe Biden embraces the gateway theory, security forces of Bolivia's new rightist government gun down protesting coca growers, and more. 

Filipino banner displayed at International Drug Policy Reform Conference in St. Louis last week. (Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

House Judiciary Committee to Vote on Federal Legalization Bill. The House Judiciary Committee will vote Wednesday on whether to approve the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3884). The bill would end federal marijuana prohibition by removing marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act. It would also set aside funding to begin repairing the damage done by the war on drugs.

Joe Biden Demurs on Marijuana Legalization, Cites Gateway Fears. Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden said he opposed legalizing marijuana at the federal level because there was insufficient evidence to convince him it was not a gateway drug. "The truth of the matter is, there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug," Biden said. "It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it." He also said that marijuana legalization should be left to the states.

New Jersey Marijuana Arrests Jumped in Recent Years. The ACLU of New Jersey has issued a report showing nearly 38,000 marijuana arrests in the state in 2017, up a full 35% over the 28,000 pot busts recorded in 2013. Meanwhile, politicians in the state have failed to get marijuana legalization passed.

Oregon Appeals Court Blocks Ban on Flavored Marijuana Vaping Products. The state Court of Appeals last Thursday blocked the statewide ban on flavored marijuana vaping products. The order comes a month after the court blocked a similar ban on nicotine vaping products. The ruling came in a legal challenge to an executive order by Gov. Kathleen Brown (D) banning flavored vaping products as a response to the outbreak of vaping-related illness this fall.

International

Bolivian Security Forces Gun Down Protesting Coca Growers. Security forces loyal to the ultra-right interim government that took power in La Paz after the forced departure of long-time President Evo Morales opened fire on protesting coca growers near Cochabamba on Friday night, killing nine of them. The coca growers back Morales, and their unions demanded Sunday that provisional leader Jeanine Anez step down "within 48 hours" and that new elections be held within 90 days. Morales was forced out by the military after weeks of demonstrations calling for his ouster over disputed elections last month.

DPA & Representatives from 51 Countries Stand Behind Efforts to ‘STOP THE KILLINGS’ in the Philippines at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference. Last week, at Drug Policy Alliance’s International Drug Policy Reform Conference, attendees from 51 countries protested the thousands of brutal killings that have taken place in the Philippines in the name of President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, gathering under cultural collective RESBAK’s iconic ‘Stop the Killings’ banner in a united show of opposition. "With the world watching, we felt compelled to use our platform to draw attention to the horrendous crimes taking place every day in the Philippines, with the full-throated support of that country’s president," said Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "The Philippines is a stark example of how the drug war can so easily serve as an excuse for targeting vulnerable people, and harassing critics, and punishing opponents."

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

(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.)

Chronicle AM: No Legal Weed in Maryland Next Year, Santa Cruz Psychedelic Decrim Move, More... (11/15/19)

Maryland legislators say they have yet to reach agreement on key aspects of marijuana legalization, leaving prospects for next year in doubt; Santa Cruz, California, moves toward decriminaliizing natural psychedelics, a Georgia medical marijuana commission finally gets members, and more.

Santa Cruz could be the next locale to free the 'shrooms. (Greenoid/Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

New Congressional Resolution Calls for Marijuana Legalization and Drug Expungements. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) on Thursday filed a congressional resolution calling for marijuana legalization and expunging all drug convictions. Her "People's Justice Guarantee" resolution is more broadly designed to "transform the U.S. criminal legal system to one that meets America’s foundational yet unfilled promise of justice for all"through ending for-profit prisons, decriminalizing some non-violent offenses, capping criminal sentences, and reinvesting in communities adversely impacted by the war on drugs.

Maryland Legislative Panel to Defer Action on Legalizing Marijuana.Leaders of the General Assembly’s Marijuana Legalization Workgroup said Wednesday that they need more time to sort through an issue that is complex and still relatively new. That means the legislature is unlikely to seriously consider marijuana legalization next year. Among the issues unresolved are the amount of fines for smoking in public, whether to allow personal cultivation, whether people could give marijuana to others, and whether companies that have medical marijuana licenses should get favorable treatment.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Names Members of State Medical Marijuana Commission. Gov. Brian Kemp (R), Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston announced seven appointments Tuesday. They include several doctors, a professor, a police chief and a small business owner. The commission was authorized by a bill passed in April that allows for the in-state production and sale of CBD oil. Now, after a six-month delay, the commission can move forward.

Psychedelics

Santa Cruz, California, Advances Effort to Decriminalize Natural Psychedelics. A city council panel will take up the proposed decriminalization of psychoactive plants and fungi next month after passing through a public hearing Tuesday night. The Public Safety Committee is expected to recommend that the council approve a plan to make natural psychedelics the lowest law enforcement priority.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Ohio narcs go down for a shady scheme, South Carolina cops get snared in a sting, jailers go bad all over the place, and more. Let's get to it:

In Port Clinton, Ohio, two former Ottawa County Drug Task Force agents and a sheriff's deputy were arrested October 27 for alleged misconduct around the unlawful sales of weapons and covering it up. Carl Rider, 55, a former task force commander, is charged with unlawful transaction in weapons, theft in office and a misdemeanor count of falsification. Donald St. Clair, 50, was charged with three counts of perjury. Ottawa County Sheriff’s Deputy James Hanney Jr., 46, was also charged with two counts of perjury after he was accused of the same offense.

In San Antonio, a former Bexar County sheriff's deputy was arrested October 28 for using his position on the dope squad to try to coax sexual favors from suspects. Ramon Rivera, 47, is charged with official oppression.

In Los Angeles, a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy was arrested October 29 for allegedly lying about a marijuana warehouse robbery involving another deputy. Deputy Bradley Scott Dietze, 45, is accused of lying to LAPD officers investigating the theft of 1,200 pounds of weed and $645,000 in cash. He is charged with a misdemeanor count of resisting, delaying or obstructing a peace officer and could face up to a year in county jail, prosecutors said. The sheriff's deputy involved in the theft, Deputy Marc Antrim, now faces a federal charge of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances that carries a maximum possible sentence of 40 years in prison.

\In Angola, Louisiana, an Angola state prison guard trainee was arrested October 31 for trying to smuggle marijuana and cell phones into the prison. Cadet guard Diodelda Anderson, 49, went down after a search of her vehicle uncovered 17 grams of pot, 6 ounces of synthetic cannabinoids, three cell phones, and other contraband. She is charged with malfeasance in office and introduction of contraband into a penal institution.

In Graham, North Carolina, an Alamance County prison guard was arrested November 1 along with eight others in a scheme to get drugs to inmates in state prisons. The drug in question was suboxone. The prison guard arrested is Lauren Del Zimmerman, 31. He is charged with conspiracy to sell and deliver a schedule III controlled substance.

In Hamilton, Ohio, a former Warren County jail guard was sentenced last Monday to three years in prison for dealing drugs on the job. Daniel Garvey had been arrested en route to work in February and pleaded guilty to a trafficking charge in September.

In Kenosha, Wisconsin, a Kenosha County sheriff's deputy was arrested Wednesday for possessing marijuana after he stopped a driver, followed him to a marijuana grow operation, questioned him about it, then told him to say the deputy had never been there. Deputy Brian J. Houtsinger, 32, went down after authorities searched his patrol vehicle and found 13 grams of weed, a digital scale, and packaging materials in the trunk. He is also accused of seizing marijuana in another traffic stop, but not reporting it. He is charged with marijuana possession and dereliction of duty.

In Columbia, South Carolina, three former Orangeburg police officers pleaded guilty October 27 after being ensnared in an FBI sting where they thought they were aiding Mexican drug cartels. All three agreed to use their official vehicles to escort what they thought were loads of cartel cash and cartel drugs. Allan Hunter, 51, a former police officer in the town of Springfield, pleaded guilty to numerous charges connected with taking bribes to protect the fake cartel’s drug-trafficking operations. Nathaniel Shazier III, 29, a former Orangeburg County sheriff’s deputy, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to guard the fake cartel’s trucks. Stanley Timmons, 44, a former Orangeburg County sheriff’s deputy, pleaded guilty to being part of a conspiracy to guard the fake cartel’s trucks. They're all looking at between five and 20 years in federal prison.

Medical Marijuana Update

The Senate approves a bill protecting medical marijuana states from federal intervention, Alabama and Kansas move toward filing medical marijuana legislation, a South Dakota medical marijuana initiative hands in signatures, and more.

National

Senate Approves Bill Protecting Medical Marijuana States from Federal Intervention. The Senate on October 30 approved a "minibus" appropriations bill covering several agencies that extends a provision protecting state medical marijuana programs from federal interference. The House has passed a version of the bill with even broader protections for all state marijuana programs, so the question now is whether the House language will be adopted in the final bill.

Alabama

Alabama Will See Medical Marijuana Bill Next Year. The state's Medical Marijuana Commission, which was charged with developing medical marijuana legislation, says it will be ready to introduce a medical marijuana bill in the next legislative session. The deadline for the commission's bill to be filed is December 1.

Iowa

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

Kansas

Kansas Lawmakers Recommend Studying How to Legalize Medical Marijuana. An interim legislative committee recommended October 30 that the legislature advance medical marijuana legislation. The committee recommended that the legislature look to Ohio as a guide.

Kentucky

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

Michigan

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

South Dakota

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. New Approach South Dakota, the group behind a medical marijuana initiative, handed in more than 30,000 raw signatures on Novermber 5, nearly double the 16,691 valid voter signatures required to qualify the measure for the November 2020 ballot. State officials will announce in a matter of weeks whether the initiative has qualified.

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

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