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Philippines Drug War and Human Rights Solidarity Campaign

No Time Like the Present: Drug Policy Reform is More Urgent Than Ever
side event at the UN High-Political Forum on Sustainable Development
Wednesday July 8th, noon-1:30pm ET (midnight Philippines time)
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89730771837?pwd=Ymc5ZmVDQTd5VVI5d05xaWU1TkJrdz09

 

 
 
Logo created for our Philippines campaign by
artist Cesar Maxit. It combines the universal
human rights logo with imprisoned Senator
Leila de Lima's famous hand gesture.

Thank you for taking the time to read about our global advocacy program on the human rights crisis in the Philippine drug war. Below you will find detailed discussion of work through s, with video and links to statements or news articles, but only updated through July 2018.

Work done since then, about which we'll be adding in detail to this page soon, includes:

  • February 2019 "soft launch" of  "Stand with Human Rights and Democracy: Global Campaign for the Philippines";
  • March 2019 forum at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna;
  • July 2019 forum at the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in New York;
  • December 2019 forum at the International Criminal Court's Assembly of States Parties in The Hague;
  • March 2020 forum at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs;
  • speeches and other participation in allied groups' events in Washington;
  • community meeting on International Human Rights Advocacy at the International Conference on Drug Policy Reform;
  • work we are doing in the US Congress; and
  • other help we are providing to allies.

Material we will be posting from these activities includes but is not limited to:

  • highlights from February campaign events;
  • video footage of the three forums (which bring our total number of events to date to six);
  • presentations on the disinformation and social media manipulation campaigns that underpin Duterte's drug war and moves toward autocracy; and
  • photos from various events.

One particular highlight we will mention here is that our March 2019 event drew significant media in the Philippines, due to the participation by Skype of Law School Dean and then senatorial candidate Chel Diokno, who criticized the "erosion of the Philippine justice system." This in turn drew a public response from the government's Justice Secretary, their equivalent of Attorney General.

As noted above, the video and other resources we will be posting broadens our efforts to include exposing the disinformation and social media manipulation campaigns being carried out by President Duterte and his allies, which are a key plank of his drug war and moves toward authoritarianism. Presentations done for our events including cutting edge academic research and journalism on how appearances are being manipulated through concerted paid online efforts by "trolls" and others.


While much of the world moves toward compassionate drug policy reform, a populist would-be dictator has led one country cruelly backwards.

Since taking office, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has orchestrated a brutal campaign of extrajudicial killings, mainly as part of his "drug war." Credible estimates for the number of dead range from at least 12,000 to a likely 30,000 or more since mid-2016.

Ominously, a "Duterte effect" in the region has led to extrajudicial drug war killings in Indonesia and Bangladesh, and high-level officials in Malaysia and Turkey have also called for killings or other extrajudicial violence. In a move that has comforted human rights violators everywhere, President Trump has praised Duterte's drug war, twice.

 
 
funeral for victim of Duterte's drug war killings

Other abuses in have affected hundreds of thousands, and killings of activists, priests, even mayors are growing as well. In July 2019, the administration filed sedition cases against 35 opposition figures, including Catholic priests and Bishops, current and former Senators and candidates, even Vice President Leni Robredo. After the International Criminal Court announced a preliminary examination of allegations about the Philippine drug war, the administration withdrew the Philippines from the ICC's Rome Treaty.

Duterte is aggressively attacking his critics and the nation's democratic institutions as he seeks to bring about dictatorship. If he succeeds, there's no knowing where or how far the killings may go.

 

"There are 3 million drug addicts (in the Philippines). I'd be happy to slaughter them. If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have..." [points at himself]


Rodrigo Duterte, September 2016(source: Reuters)

 

We at StoptheDrugWar.org ask your help in stopping this tragedy, and the threat it represents to democracy and international institutions.

Our Philippines efforts to date include a series of events at important international meetings, mainly of the United Nations; a "soft launch" as well as behind the scenes development for "Stand with Human Rights and Democracy: Global Campaign for the Philippines"; and other pending efforts.

Our UN events have been high-profile. The first, in March 2017, triggered a major political incident in the Philippines, after Vice President Robredo, a human rights lawyer and opposition leader, sent us a speech by video which criticized the President's drug policies. Our March 2019 event drew headlines in the Philippines and forced a response from the nation's Justice Secretary. Full information on the series appears below.

The "Stand with Human Rights and Democracy" campaign links drug policy reform in general terms to big issues of the day including democracy, human rights, rule of law, and the fight against internet-powered disinformation and authoritarianism.

Our work in this area grew our of advocacy we've done at the United Nations since late 2014. As part of a global community of reform-minded NGOs, we call for people-centered approaches to drug policy governed by human rights. Initially this aimed at the April 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS). When Duterte was elected and the Philippine slaughter began, we turned our attention there.

Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo recorded
a powerful video for our March 2017 UN event.
 

The pro-Duterte forces have noticed us. Duterte allies including the (now former) Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives have attacked Philippine opposition leaders for working with us. Orchestrated online troll armies have descended on our videos. One of our events even prompted fake news stories.

We are currently crafting plans for moving forward in this campaign in an even bigger way. Please subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you don't miss any announcements about it. If you have a particular interest in the Philippines and want to be in touch about this, please email us.

 

Our accomplishments to date have included:

 


UN Events

Under the auspices of our UN-accredited 501(c)(3) nonprofit, DRCNet Foundation, we have organized events in conjunction with the 2017, 2018 and 2019 Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meetings in Vienna, the 2018 and 2019 High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development meetings in New York, and the 2019 Assembly of States Parties of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

 
 
TIME magazine did the first posting
of the vice president's video,
embedding it from our YouTube account.

Vienna 2017: Our March 2017 event, coorganized with the Manila-based Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, drew massive attention in the Philippines, due to a speech by video from Philippines Vice President Leni Robredo that led to unfair attacks on her by Duterte allies and an (ultimately unsuccessful) impeachment drive. The video also garnered US and international coverage. Robredo's video strongly criticized Duterte's drug war, as well as Duterte-led moves in the Philippines Congress (also so far unsuccessful) to reinstate the death penalty, including for drug offenses, and to lower the age of criminal liability to nine.

We released the video on Monday March 13, three days before our event, offering TIME magazine the exclusive first posting. TIME followed up with an interview with Robredo. Along with extensive coverage in Philippine mainstream media, discussion of the video trended on Twitter, and was covered by wire services and outlets throughout Asia and the Gulf.

Unfortunately though not surprisingly, Duterte's forces hit back. The Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives and the president's Spokesperson both claimed the vice president's office (OVP) must have timed the video's release to coincide with other events that week. They principally pointed to an impeachment complaint a congressman filed against Duterte the day after we released the video, as well as a resolution in the European Parliament calling for the release of Duterte critic Sen. Leila de Lima. They presented this as evidence Robredo was engaged in a "destabilization campaign" against the government.

 
Robredo's opponents used the
video to attack her politically.

While still in Vienna, we released a statement to media refuting those claims. It documented that UN staff had scheduled side events for the CND nearly two months earlier, and attested that OVP had made no requests of us. (Our event appears on page ten of the 2017 CND side events list; a screenshot of that document's properties page shows it was published on January 23, compared with the event's March 16 date.) Sen. Kiko Pangilinan distributed the statement to the Liberal Party's media list, and we also contacted Philippine media. CNN Philippines, on which the president's spokesperson had first made the false claim about the role of the video, published the most extensive story about our debunking of it. (See news links below.)

 
 
coverage of our statement
defending the vice president, CNN
Philippines mobile home page

While our statement helped to defuse the specific charge of a coordinated campaign by the vice president, Duterte's team had ignited a political firestorm over the video which already had its own momentum, and which turned into a campaign to impeach Robredo. At the height of the furor, opportunistic celebrities even held a concert and rally against Robredo. (Their campaign reached the US west coast, when a Filipino American group in Hayward, California held an affinity rally.)

The political heat that Robredo, a human rights lawyer, took for participating in our event is unfortunate. But she has continued to speak out against the killings, and remains a popular figure.

News reports on our event, the vice president's video, and its fallout, are too numerous to link here, and media continued for a long time to refer to them when discussing the vice president's political trajectory. One example is this analysis in the prominent Philippine news outlet Rappler, as of late 2019 ranked as the 10th more read web site in the Philippines. We post here a selection of key news links, as well as links for video footage of our entire event and other resources.

 
Philippine officials provided the
government's response.
(photo by Joey Tranchina)

Event footage is available online here. Along with the Robredo statement and an Amnesty International video, it includes presentations by Chito Gascon, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines; Abhisit Vejjajiva, former Prime Minister of Thailand and current chair of event cosponsor the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (video); Lousewies van der Laan, former leader of the Dutch D66 party (Skype); Alison Smith, lead counsel and head of international criminal justice programs at the NGO No Peace Without Justice; Marco Perduca, former Senator from Italy and a member of our board of directors; and a written statement from US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). We also have transcripts and a detailed summary.

 
 

Co-moderator Marco Perduca, former
senator of Italy, and David Borden
speaking with Amnesty International's
Daniel Joloy, other speakers Alison
Smith (just off screen) and Lousewies
van der Laan (on Skype).
(photo by Joey Tranchina)

Following are some key news article and related links:

The Philippines' largest broadsheet newspaper and 8th most read web site in the country as of this writing, The Inquirer, interviewed our executive director David Borden, as well as fellow event speaker Alison Smith, two weeks after the event. The interview, titled "Group says Duterte, not Robredo, upsetting int'l community," was widely read, shared by Inquirer readers nearly 9,000 times.

A transcript of the video is posted on Vice President Robredo's web site.

Articles covering our statement defending the vice president against the Speaker's false attack:

Articles covering our publishing of the full event footage:

 
 
Senator Trillanes displays copy
of Duterte administration's 2017
report, listing 20,000 killings
among its accomplishments

(photo by Joey Tranchina)

Vienna 2018: A year almost to the day after our 2017 event (and in the same room at the UN), we held another event featuring outspoken opposition Philippine Senator Antonio F. Trillanes IV. (Duterte has said of Trillanes, "I [will] destroy him, or he will destroy me.")

In a sign of the times, the day before our event when Senator Trillanes arrived at the UN, President Duterte transmitted one-year notice of the Philippines withdrawing from the International Criminal Court, in retaliation for the ICC's preliminary investigation of his drug war. The night before our event, prosecutors in the Philippines indicted the senator on a spurious sedition charge.

Tania Ramírez and Natalie Ginsberg
read Senator de Lima's statement.
Alessandro de Luca also pictured.
(photo by Joey Tranchina)
 

Senator Leila de Lima contributed a written statement to our event as well. Joining Senator Trillanes as featured speaker was Ellecer Carlos, well-known spokesperson for the iDEFEND Philippine human rights coalition. The event was again co-moderated by David Borden and Marco Perduca.

 
 
speaker meeting before the forum
(photo by Joey Tranchina)

Roughly 70 people attended, many forced to stand outside the 30-person capacity meeting room. Attendees represented a range of governments, UN agencies, NGOs, and members of the local Filipino community.

While the sedition charge became the main news story, driving out much of the coverage our event might otherwise have gotten, we did get some media including television:



 

 

 

 

 


- After Robredo, Trillanes Turn to Blast EJKs in war on drugs, Inquirer article published in advance of our event

State of the Nation with Jennifer Soho

News 5 Aksyon Tonite

Philtizen article noting State of the Nation report (over 9,700 shares on Facebook)

Trillanes not backing down on sedition case (The Philippines' top news outlet, ABS-CBN, filmed for this report at our event. The sedition indictment, which was issued the night before, became the main story.)

How many more Filipinos will suffer under Duterte? De Lima asks (Inquirer article -- over 7,700 shares)

Rights Reporter interview with Senator Trillanes

 

 
 
fake news story with fabricated
statement attributed to us

In another sign of the times, Filipinos working in Vienna attended our event, including both supporters and critics of President Duterte. One member of the "Die Hard Duterte Supporters contingent (DDS -- a play on the infamous "Davao Death Squad" Duterte operated as mayor) challenged Senator Trillanes on the number of killings during the discussion time, while others videorecorded. The pro-Duterte media forces selectively edited the video in order to create an appearance that Trillanes didn't have an answer for him (as the senator and his staff had predicted). An example from a local newspaper in the Philippines appears here. Our Facebook Live video shows that Senator Trillanes did respond, however, and that the encounter was a civil one. The two spoke at length following the event.

Our visit to the UN cafeteria the day before the event led to a series of misleading and fake news stories. A Filipino cashier noticed Senator Trillanes was wearing an NGO badge, rather than one issued by the Philippines' Mission to the UN, and sent a picture to a pro-Duterte blogger. The blogger's post, which misidentified us as a Filipino American NGO, is online here, and has over 7,700 shares. An article posted on two Philippines-focused sites (here and here) "confirmed" that the senator had entered the UN through our auspices.

This information in these pieces isn't fake per se, but they attempt to imply a scandal or problem where there was none. A fake news story followed on the blog post, includes a photo of us on the lunch line with Trillanes, but claims falsely that the senator was "scolded" by a UN security guard who told him to "eat last." A follow-up fake news piece features a fabricated statement attributed to our organization. >A third piece by the same writer provided video from our event of a Filipino Duterte supporter contesting Trillanes' information, but implied falsely that the senator fell silent instead of responding to him.

The Facebook Live video stream from this event follows below. We will post an edited playlist copy and transcript in the near future. In the meanwhile, a realtime transcript from the CND Blog can be read here, and individual speeches can be accessed by going to the following points in the video. (We're not able to link to specific times within Facebook videos.)

  • Statement of Senator Leila de Lima, read by Tania Ramírez and Natalie Lyla Ginsberg (13:38)
  • David Borden (20:17)
  • Marco Perduca (21:03)
  • Senator Antonio Trillanes (26:42)
  • Ellecer Carlos (27:12)
  • Discussion (59:20)

See our September 2018 statement regarding another attempt by the Duterte administration to imprison Trillanes, their most serious one yet.

New York 2018: On July 16, we hosted the third event in the series, "Human Rights Challenge: Judicial and Extrajudicial Killings in a Time of Authoritarianism," expanding the scope of the discussion to include the death penalty for drug offenses. The event was held at the Church Center of the United Nations, in conjunction with the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

 

Prominent opposition leader Senator Risa Hontiveros of the Philippines provided a video for our event, calling for international solidarity for human rights and an end to Duterte's drug war. The two hour event also featured Professor Jason Wright of the Washington & Lee Law School, speaking on behalf of the California-based group Death Penalty Focus; and Justine Balane, International Secretary for Akbayan Youth in the Philippines, via Skype.

The largest Philippine news outlet, ABS-CBN, filmed the event, and a report ran on their US station, Balitang America.

Following is the Balitang America's YouTube copy of the TV report:

Following is full video of the event. An edited playlist copy and transcript will be posted in the near future. In the meanwhile, individual sections can be accessed by clicking on the time indications in this list:

  • Welcome and Acknowledgments by David Borden, Executive Director, StoptheDrugWar.org (0:00)
  • Video message from Senator Risa Hontiveros, Republic of the Philippines (4:16) | (original copy of Hontiveros video here)
  • Remarks by David on Borden on the UN Sustainable Developments Goals, and Background for This Event (7:47)
  • Justine Balane, International Secretary, Akbayan Youth (14:11)
  • Professor Jason Wright, Washington & Lee School of Law, representing Death Penalty Focus (25:55)
  • David Borden remarks (48:34)
  • Invited remarks from audience by Shilpa Nandwani, Northeast Coordinator, International Coalition for the Philippines US Chapter (53:50)
  • Invited remarks from audience by Terrenze Rienton (1:01:18)
  • General Discussion (1:06:43)
  • audience remarks by Rev. Levi Bautista (1:12:57)
  • General Discussion (1:17:23)

 

In March 2019, we returned to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting, where we were joined via Skype by Chel Diokno, Dean of the De La Salle University School of Law, and at the time a candidate for the Philippine Senate. Attorney Diokno's keynote speech garnered strong media attention in the Philippines, and a comment he made about the "erosion of the Philippine justice system" drew a response from Philippine Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

With this event we also began to address the role of social media manipulation and disinformation in the Philippine crisis. The program included a presentation by video from a scholar of online disinformation campaigns, Pamela Combinido, whose group had interviewed the organizers and rank-and-file "trolls" who carry them out; and a video from BuzzFeed News on Facebook's role in fueling Duterte's drug war, which accompanied an award-winning article on the topic by technology reporter Davey Alba.

videos:

    1

news articles about Diokno's speech:

    1

news stories about the Justice Secretary's response:

    1

HLPF 2019

ASP

 


 

Protest at Philippines Embassy, Washington, DC

  

For the one-year mark of the jailing of Duterte critic Senator Leila de Lima on spurious drug charges, we organized a protest at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC. The event featured street theater with Duterte and Philippine National Police figures arresting Senator de Lima and pretending to shoot attendees.

Allies in the Philippines helped to promote the event's Facebook Live video stream, and it went viral in the Philippines, with nearly 470,000 views as of this writing. Among our cosponsors in the action were Amnesty International, the Filipino American Human Rights Alliance and the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines.

 

Other Philippines-focused groups such as Gabriela-DC and the International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines-US were participated as well. The event represented a step for Philippines-focused groups with various different ideological roots working together. Video of the action went viral in the Philippines, and has garnered nearly 470,000 views. Since that time our executive director, David Borden, has been a go-to person about the drug war for demonstrations organized by Filipino American groups.

Facebook Live video:

 

      

(photos and video done by event cosponsor DCMJ)

 


Global Sign-On Statement

In the lead up to the November 2017 Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which was hosted by Duterte in the Philippines, we organized a global sign-on statement which calls for a UN-led investigation of the drug war killings; for the leaders of ASEAN member states and other world leaders attending to speak up about the issue; and for international aid donor governments to impose human rights conditions on law enforcement assistance to the Philippines, while funding positive programs that could serve as an alternative to the Philippine drug war, and funding the work of human rights advocates.

 
InterAksyon article

Nearly 300 NGOs and prominent individuals endorsed the statement. Of the 240 NGO endorsers, more than 50 are based in Asia, including a majority of ASEAN member states as well as India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. There are also several Asia-wide networks devoted to issues such as HIV, transgender and drug user concerns, and youth democracy activism.

Some notable signatories on the document include the National Organization for Women (NOW), Doctors of the World, the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG, a nationwide Philippines human rights lawyers group founded during the Marcos dictatorship years), Treatment Communities of America, prominent human rights advocate and actor of MASH fame Mike Farrell, former police chief of Seattle Norm Stamper, and others.

A political component of the statement's outreach efforts, which was in its early stages at the time of the statement's release, secured endorsements from legislators in Canada, Italy, Cambodia, and Washington State, as well as other political and governmental officials from Singapore, Canada and the UK.

The statement was covered by four important Philippines news outlets:

The Interaksyon article credited our coalition with renewing global calls for a UN-led probe into the drug war killings.


Legislative Lobbying

 
 
April 2018 lobbying coalition

A bipartisan bill in the US Senate, "The Philippine Human Rights Accountability and Counternarcotics Act of 2017," would enact human rights conditions on some law enforcement assistance to the Philippines, based on certifications by the US State Dept., while funding public health programs to address substance issues as well as human rights work. There is similar language in the current version of the Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. We are working with a coalition that includes Filipino American organizations and faith networks, to pass this legislation as part of the upcoming appropriations process, or if not then later during the 2018 session of Congress.

In April 2018, StoptheDrugWar.org's executive director David Borden was invited to join a lobbying group that included advocates visiting from the Philippines as part of the Stop the Killings Speaking Tour 2018 of the Caravan for Peace and Justice for the Philippines, as well as representatives of Filipino American organizations, faith groups participating in the Ecumenical Advocacy Days the weekend before, and others. Key organizers of the lobbying effort were the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines US Chapter. Borden is regularly asked by Filipino American advocates to address the drug war in meetings and demonstrations.

An update and action alert we published is online here, and includes information on what the most key states and congressional districts are. We have a write-to-Congress form supporting S. 1055 online here.

  

We view this legislation as important not only for its potential impact on the Duterte administration's political cost-benefit analysis on this issue, but also because of the inconsistent approach to the matter taken by the current US administration. While the State Department has raised some concerns about the drug war killings, President Trump has made comments which seem to green-light them.

Specifically, in December 2016 Trump and Duterte spoke on the phone, after which Duterte claimed that Trump praised his drug policies. While Duterte could have made that up, the Trump team never rebutted the claim.

After Trump and Duterte spoke again in April 2017, a statement on the White House web site said they discussed " fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs," with no qualification of that statement to exclude extrajudicial killings from Trump's apparent praise. A transcript of the April conversation leaked to Rappler quotes Trump congratulating Duterte for doing an "'unbelievable job' in the war on drugs."

Finally, Trump was silent about the issue during his appearance at the ASEAN Summit, at least publicly. A White House spokesperson said that Trump and Duterte talked briefly about human rights, but did not elaborate. Duterte has recently claimed that a White House visit is in the works, pending scheduling.


Coalition Building

As the above sections show, we have actively sought partners in this campaign, both in the Philippines and in the Filipino American community, including groups spanning a range of the ideological spectrum. But we have also sought to bring others in to the effort -- from drug policy reform, international criminal justice advocacy, the anti-death penalty movement and others.

 

In March before heading to Vienna for our event with Senator Trillanes, we organized a panel for the Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference in Baltimore, "Human Rights Challenge, Responding to extrajudicial killings in the Philippines." Our panel featured Eric Lachica of US Filipinos for Good Governance; and Shamah Bulangis and Justine Balane, National Secretary General and International Secretary respectively of Akbayan Youth, who are also SSDP Ambassadors for the Philippines.

The panel was well attended, and following it, we brought signs from Philippines-related demonstrations (our 2/28 embassy protest and others) to the plenary hall, where conference attendees, following a group picture, took a second group pictures with the signs, while holding hands up in a Philippines protest symbol. The photo, posted to Facebook by an attendee, went viral in the Philippines.

The energy of the event and level of interest in this campaign that was shown there, following our successful protest a week earlier, makes us believe that a larger movement can be built on this issue, capable of bringing greater pressure on the Duterte administration over the killings. Please subscribe to our email list to be updated as plans progress, and feel free to contact us directly in the meanwhile.

David Borden met with members of the Filipino American Human Rights Alliance San Francisco chapter in July 2018. In this video, filmed by FAHRA leader Ago Pedalizo, Borden remarks on the recent awarding of the prestigious "Prize for Freedom" award to Senator de Lima:


These efforts, which continue into 2018, are part of a global drug policy reform program StoptheDrugWar.org has pursued decisively since fall 2014. Much of that involves the United Nations, and our 501(c)(3) US nonprofit organization, DRCNet Foundation Inc., is an accredited NGO in Special Consultative Status with the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Our international drug policy program is headed by our founder and 24-year executive director, David Borden, who tweets as @stopthedrugwar, and who starting in the near future will tweet on Philippines matters as @BordenUNEventPH. In the near future our organization's blog and newsletter will have a significant focus on the Philippines as well. Our Philippines-related content can also be accessed through our category archive at https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines.

– END –


 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Filipino President Says Hold Him Responsible for Drug War Killings; NM Pot, Decriminalization Poll, More... (10/20/20)

New York should be advancing marijuana legalization early next year, Mexico's Senate should be voting on marijuana legalization by month's end, and more.

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte says to hold him responsible for drug war killings. Talk is cheap. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New York Governor's Advisor Says State Will Legalize Marijuana by April. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's top advisor on marijuana, David Culver, said that marijuana legalization legislation will be included in the state budget in January and that the goal was to get it passed by April. The moves will come as neighboring New Jersey votes on legalization in two weeks. "We’re watching New Jersey closely. We’ve always been confident that we get to this before New Jersey, so if they pass the referendum they still have to have agreement between the governor the Senate over there," Culver said, referring to necessary implementing legislation that will need to be approved if voters pass the ballot question. "We’re working on this. We’re going to reintroduce this in our budget in January. We think we can get it done by April 1."

Drug Policy

New Mexico Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization, Near Majority Support for Drug Decriminalization. A poll sponsored by Drug Policy Action, the political and lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, has support for marijuana legalization with social equity provisions at 72%, support for drug defelonization at 62%, and support for drug decriminalization at 49%. Gov. Michelle Luhan Grisham (D) has called for marijuana legalization, but it has yet to get through the legislature.

International

Mexican Senate Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization by Month's End, Majority Leader Says. Ricardo Monreal, Senate leader of the ruling MORENA Party, has said the Senate will vote to approve the bill before the end of October. The legislature is operating under the pressure of a twice-extended Supreme Court deadline since the court declared marijuana prohibition unconstitutional in 2018. Once the Senate passes the bill, it will still have to be approved by the Chamber of Deputies. Different stakeholders are still at odds over the precise nature of the bill, though.

Philippine President Says He Accepts Responsibility for Drug War Killings. President Rodrigo Duterte has brashly said he accepts responsibility for the thousands of people killed in the bloody anti-drug campaign he unleashed after his election in 2016. "If there's killing there, I'm saying I'm the one ... you can hold me responsible for anything, any death that has occurred in the execution of the drug war," Duterte said. "If you get killed, it's because I'm enraged by drugs," said the president known for his coarse and boastful rhetoric. "If I serve my country by going to jail, gladly." He did, however, reject responsibility for the thousands of people killed not by police but by so-called vigilantes.

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

Settlement in Breonna Taylor Drug Raid Killing, UN Human Rights Chief Criticizes Philippines Drug War, More... (9/15/20)

There is a landmark settlement in the killing of Breonna Taylor, the federal government hints at a move toward the use of hair follicle testing for federal employees, and more. 

Drug war victim Breonna Taylor. Her family has settled with the city of Louisville. (Taylor family)
Medical Marijuana

Utah Lawsuit Over Legislature's Replacement of Voter-Approved Medical Marijuana Initiative Dropped. Proponents of a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative have dropped a lawsuit challenging the state legislature's replacement of it with a more restrictive program have dropped their lawsuit against the state after the legislature backed off of a plan to have the state dispense the medicine to qualifying patients.

Drug Testing

Feds Push for Hair Follicle Drug Testing Despite Known Racial Disparities in Results. The Department of Health and Human Services has announced a proposal to set scientific and technical guidelines for the use of hair follicle specimens for drug testing federal workers—even though the hair follicle tests are known for producing racially disparate results. The proposal would allow executive branch agencies "to collect and test a hair specimen as part of their drug testing programs with the limitation that hair specimens be used for pre-employment (i.e., for applicants applying for federal testing designated positions) and random testing."

Law Enforcement

City of Louisville Reaches Settlement with Breonna Taylor Family. The city of Louisville has settled a lawsuit with the family of Breonna Taylor, the black women killed by Louisville police in a badly botched no-knock drug raid in which no drugs were found. In addition to a $12 million cash settlement, the settlement will require police commanders to approve all search warrant application, require police to undergo extensive risk assessments before applying for a warrant, and require that an EMT or paramedic by on site during the execution of search warrants. The settlement does not impact ongoing criminal investigations of the police involved in the raid.

International

UN Human Rights Chief Calls for End to Policies, Rhetoric That Lead to Abuses and Killings in the Philippines. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Monday that the Philippine government should change policies that lead to killings and other human rights violations. Her remarks came during her opening statement at the 45th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. She said that human rights principals "require accountable policing and access to justice help to avert the escalation of tensions and grievances into violence and conflict." Bachelet acknowledged that the Philippine government has committed to investigate more than 5,000 drug war killings, but said that was just a first step. "We are seeking details from the government so we can advise and assess the review panel's scope, process and efficacy," Bachelet said. "However, beyond this initial process, there is clearly an urgent need to revoke the policies that continue to result in killings and other human rights violations, to bring to justice the perpetrators, and to halt the use of rhetoric inciting violence against people who use or sell drugs."

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.

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

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

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

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

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

online registration via Zoom

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

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

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

OR Therapeutic Psilocbyin Init Looks Set to Make Ballot, Atlanta Cops Quit Drug Arrests During Sickout, More... (6/30/20)

UN human rights experts keep up the pressure on the Philippines, the Oregon therapeutic psilocbyin initiative looks set to make the November ballot, and more. 

Atlanta arrests by the numbers during the police sickout. (APD)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Governor Signs Bill Granting Him Expanded Authority to Pardon Marijuana Offenders. Gov. Jared Polis (D) has signed into law House Bill 1424, which gives his office expanded powers to pardon people with past marijuana convictions. The bill allows the governor to "grant pardons to a class of defendants who were convicted of the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana without an application and without seeking the comment of the District Attorney and judges for those cases."

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Governor Signs Bill Expanding State's Medical Marijuana Program. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) has signed into law House File 2589, which expands the state's medical marijuana program to include patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and severe autism. It also increases the state's THC limit to 4.5 grams in 90 days, a limit which some Democratic legislators said was too low.

Psychedelics

Oregon Activists Say They Enough Signatures to Put Therapeutic Psilocbyin on November Ballot. The people behind the state's therapeutic psilocybin initiative, IP 34 said Monday they had gathering enough valid voter signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot. The state has not yet verified that the initiative is over the top, but has already verified nearly 107,000 of the 112,020 needed to qualify. The campaign says it has collected a total of 164,782 signatures and it has "great confidence that Oregon’s psilocybin therapy initiative will qualify for the statewide ballot."

Criminal Justice

Pennsylvania Senate Advances Policing Reform Bills. The Democratically-controlled state Senate has passed a pair of policing reform bills, Senate Bill 459, which requires full documentation of all use of force incidents, and Senate Bill 1205, which aims to ban the use of chokeholds in detaining people. More reform legislation is coming, including bills that will focus on police education and training, introduce more professional oversight including civilian review boards, establish explicit boundaries and protocols in regard to escalation and use of force, alleviate officer stresses (including potentially offering better pay), enhancing civil asset forfeiture protections and penalizing false reporting of wrongdoings based on race and ethnicity. 

Atlanta Sees Drug Arrests Drop to Zero During "Blue Flu" Police Sickout. Atlanta police have demonstrated just how discretionary drug arrests are by not making any during the week of June 14-20 in the midst of a police sickout in the wake of unrest over the killing of Rayshard Brooks by a city police officer. During the same week last year, police arrested 67 people on drug charges; this year, the number was zero. Traffic citations similarly dropped dramatically, from 3,100 during that week last year to 50 this year. Meanwhile, both shooting incidents and aggravated assaults increased during the same period this year over last year.

International

UN Human Rights Experts Renew Call for Independent Impartial Investigation of Philippines Drug War. One year ago, 11 UN human rights experts jointly called on the Human Rights  Council to establish an independent investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines. The Human Rights Council adopted Resolution 41/2 which requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a comprehensive written report on the situation of human rights in the Philippines and to present it at its 44th session. "The report, issued on 4 June 2020, confirmed our findings and warnings issued over the last four years: widespread and systematic killings and arbitrary detention in the context of the war on drugs, killings and abuses targeting farmers and indigenous peoples, the silencing of independent media, critics and the opposition. The report recognises important efforts to improve the protection of economic and social rights and stresses that these efforts should be guided by a human rights-based approach and focused on 'leaving no one behind'. The reports also finds, as we had, stark and persistent impunity," UN experts said today. "Given the scale and seriousness of the human rights violations, we renew our call on the Human Rights Council to establish an on-the-ground independent, impartial investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines."

NM Primary Voters Remove Anti-Pot Lawmakers, UN Report Scorches Philippine Drug War Killings, More... (6/4/20)

A Democratic infrastructure bill includes language requiring legal marijuana states to consider impaired driving policies, Switzerland is set to move ahead with marijuana legalization pilot projects -- but only if it's organic -- and more.

Filipino President Duterte's drug war is again drawing criticism from the UN. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Democrat Committee Leader Files Bill to Require Legal Marijuana States to Consider Impaired Driving Policies. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, filed an infrastructure bill Wednesday that includes language requiring legal marijuana states to consider programs to curb marijuana-impaired driving and to educate the public about the dangers. The bill does not apply to states that haven't legalized medical or recreational marijuana. The bill is cosponsored by several subcommittee chairs on the panel. It's called the INVEST in America Act.

New Mexico Primary Voters Remove Anti-Marijuana Legalization Lawmakers. In state primary elections Tuesday, voters in at least four state Senate districts have replaced conservative Democrats who opposed legalization with progressive challengers who support it. This makes the prospects for legalization next year even greater. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) supports the move.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Senate Votes to Expand Medical Marijuana Program. The state Senate Wednesday voted 32-17 to expand the state's medical marijuana program by increasing the amount of medical marijuana products patients can purchase to up to 25 grams of THC every 90 days. The bill now goes to the House.

International

UN Says "Near Impunity" for Drug War Killings in the Philippines. In a report released Thursday, the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights said that tens of thousands of people had been killed in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drug users and sellers amid "near impunity" for police and the incitement of violence by top officials. The report said that rhetoric may have been interpreted as "permission to kill." Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for independent investigations into the killings and said her office was ready to help credible domestic Philippine or international efforts to establish accountability.

Switzerland Approves Legal Marijuana Pilot Programs -- But Only If It's Organic. The National Council has approved a plan to start marijuana legalization pilot programs, but the government says it must be organic and grown locally. Programs will be carried out in large cities such as Basel, Bern, Biel, Geneva, and Zurich. "The models must be tested before starting the debate on whether or not to liberalize cannabis," said Pierre-Yves Maillard (Social Democrats), a spokesperson for the responsible committee. Only people who currently use marijuana and prove it via a hair sample will be able to participate.

End Drug Prohibition to Fight Organized Crime, World Leaders Say [FEATURE]

For nearly a decade now, a collection of former heads of state, high political figures, businessmen, and cultural figures have been working to reform drug policy at the national and international levels. Known as the Global Commission on Drug Policy, this group of planetary elders has been busy issuing reports at the rate of one a year on how to reduce the harms of prohibitionist drug policies and what would be more effective and humane alternatives.

members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy (globalcommissionondrugs.org)
Now they've just released their latest report, Enforcement of Drug Laws: Refocusing on Organized Crime Elites, which takes on the perverse and insidious ways drug prohibition actually empowers and encourages criminal enterprises, and counsels nations and the global anti-drug bureaucracy to find a better way. That includes pondering the possibility of drug legalization and the taming of illicit markets through regulation -- not prohibition, which has demonstrably failed for decades.

The commission rolled out its report Thursday with a virtual presentation on YouTube.

"This report has a new perspective on the problem of organized crime," said commission member Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand and former head of the United Nations Development Program. "Organized crime is a challenge in every society, and if it gets into the political realm and starts corrupting political systems, that is a huge issue, and it has done that," she said.

"Where the commission comes from is that we're saying 'drugs are being caught up in this' because of the refusal of the international community to accept that drugs need to be responsibly regulated," Clark continued. The attempt to prohibit them has actually been a license for organized crime to build a half-trillion dollar a year industry peddling stuff. Could we take drugs out of that through responsible regulation?

As president of Colombia between 2010 and 2018, Juan Manuel Santos mediated a peace treaty with the leftist guerrillas of the FARC and won a Nobel prize for his efforts. He also presided over a country that is perennially in contention for being the world's largest cocaine producer. He knows about what drug prohibition can bring.

"I come from a country that has fought drug traffickers and drug trafficking for so long and has probably paid the highest price of any country in the world -- Colombia has lost its best leaders, best journalists, best judges, best policemen -- and we are still the number one exporter of cocaine to the world markets," Santos said. "Corruption and drug trafficking go hand in hand. The most dangerous and protected individuals often escape, while ordinary people who happen to use illicit drugs see their lives destroyed by the war on drugs," he argued.

"To fight organized crime, we must follow the money," Santos continued. "People are realizing that a war that has been fought for a half century and has not been won is a war that has been lost, and so you have to change your strategy and your tactics if you want to be successful. Corruption, violence, profits, and prohibition are very closely related. You do away with prohibition, you regulate, you bring down the profits, and immediately you will start to see an improvement in violence and corruption."

The commission's work centers around five pathways, explained commission chair and former Swiss president Ruth Dreifuss.

"It is putting health first," she said. "Second, it is also giving priority to the use of some of these substances for their medical benefits. It is one of the dramatic situations also, mainly in poor countries, that the people have no access to scheduled pain killers. The third pathway, which we think is very important, is to end the criminalization of people who use drugs. The fourth chapter of our reform program is that we have to deal with the criminality related to drugs, and that is why we issued this report today. And the last point is that we have to take control. The state -- reasonable and responsible people -- have to take control of drug markets and not let them stay in criminal hands."

While the 52-page report provides a detailed, evidence-based examination of the challenges of grappling with criminal groups that thrive under prohibition, it summarizes its findings with five basic recommendations for national governments and at the United Nations, whose anti-drug treaties form the legal backbone of global drug prohibition. These are:

  1. States must acknowledge the negative consequences of repressive law enforcement approaches to drug policies and recognize that prohibition forges and strengthens criminal organizations. Sharing such conclusions with the public must then feed national debates to support bold drug policy reform. (We all know the litany by now: From racially-biased and militarized policing and over-incarceration in the United States to bloody drug wars in Mexico and Colombia financed by prohibition profits, to the murderous and repressive anti-drug campaign in the Philippines, enforcing drug prohibition has dreadfully harmful consequences.)
  2. States must analyze the transnational and trans-sectorial nature of criminal organizations, to review and reform the current exclusive focus on law enforcement. (Drug trafficking organizations don't just traffic drugs; they tend to get their fingers in whatever illicit enterprises can turn a buck for them, from wildlife smuggling to counterfeiting to extortion. And maybe we'd be better off devoting more resources to treatment and prevention instead of trying to suppress and arrest our way out of the problem.)
  3. States must develop targeted and realistic deterrence strategies to counter organized crime and focus their response on the most dangerous and/or highest profiting elements in the criminal market. States must also reinforce interdepartmental cooperation to address criminal markets in a broad sense, not solely drugs, and develop effective transnational coordination against trans-border criminal groups and international money laundering. (It's both cruel and ineffective to target drug users and street-level dealers for arrest and prosecution. But the recent Mexican experience has shown that the alternative strategy of going after "kingpins" can lead to an increase in violence as gang lieutenants engage in murderous struggles to replace each capo killed or captured. It's a real dilemma -- unless you undercut them by ending prohbition.)
  4. States must consider the legal regulation of drugs as the responsible pathway to undermine organized crime. (This increasingly seems like a very reasonable approach.)
  5. UN member states must revisit the global governance of the international drug control regime in order to achieve better outcomes in public health, public safety, justice, and greater impact on transnational organized crime. (It's way past time to nullify or amend the anti-drug treaties that guide international drug policies.)

The Global Commission on Drug Policy has laid out a framework for radical reform. Now, it's up to the nations of the world and the international institutions that bind us together to act.

Two Takes on the Global Drug War and Global Drug Cultures [FEATURE]

America shows signs of emerging from the century-long shadow of drug prohibition, with marijuana leading the way and a psychedelic decriminalization movement rapidly gaining steam. It also seems as if the mass incarceration fever driven by the war on drugs has finally broken, although tens if not hundreds of thousands remain behind bars on drug charges.

As Americans, we are remarkably parochial. We are, we still like to tell ourselves, "the world's only superpower," and we can go about our affairs without overly concerning ourselves about what's going on beyond our borders. But what America does, what America wants and what America demands has impacts far beyond our borders, and the American prohibitionist impulse is no different.

Thanks largely (but not entirely) to a century of American diplomatic pressure, the entire planet has been subsumed by our prohibitionist impulse. A series of United Nations conventions, the legal backbone of global drug prohibition, pushed by the US, have put the whole world on lockdown.

We here in the drug war homeland remain largely oblivious to the consequences of our drug policies overseas, whether it's murderous drug cartels in Mexico, murderous cops in the Philippines, barbarous forced drug treatment regimes in Russia and Southeast Asia, exemplary executions in China, or corrupted cops and politicians everywhere. But now, a couple of non-American journalists working independently have produced a pair of volumes that focus on the global drug war like a US Customs X-ray peering deep inside a cargo container. Taken together, the results are illuminating, and the light they shed reveals some very disturbing facts.

Dopeworld by Niko Vorobyov and Pills, Powder, and Smoke by Antony Loewenstein both attempt the same feat -- a global portrait of the war on drugs -- and both reach the same conclusion -- that drug prohibition benefits only drug traffickers, fearmongering politicians, and state security apparatuses -- but are miles apart attitudinally and literarily. This makes for two very different, but complementary, books on the same topic.

Loewenstein, an Australian who previously authored Disaster Capitalism and Profits of Doom, is -- duh -- a critic of capitalism who situates the global drug war within an American project of neo-imperial subjugation globally and control over minority populations domestically. His work is solid investigative reporting, leavened with the passion he feels for his subject.

In Pills, Powder, and Smoke, he visits places that rarely make the news but are deeply and negatively impacted by the US-led war on drugs, such as Honduras. Loewenstein opens that chapter with the murder of environmental activist Berta Caceres, which was not directly related to the drug war, but which illustrates the thuggish nature of the Honduran regime -- a regime that emerged after a 2009 coup overthrew the leftist president, a coup justified by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and which has received millions in US anti-drug assistance, mainly in the form of weapons and military equipment.

Honduras doesn't produce any drugs; it's only an accident of geography and the American war on drugs that we even mention the country in the context of global drug prohibition. Back in the 1980s, the administration of Bush the Elder cracked down on cocaine smuggling in the Caribbean, and as traffickers sought to evade that threat, Honduras was perfectly placed to act as a trampoline for cocaine shipments taking an alternative route through Mexico, which incidentally fueled the rise of today's deadly and uber-wealthy Mexican drug cartels.

The drug trade, combined with grinding poverty, huge income inequalities, and few opportunities, has helped turn Honduras into one of the deadliest places on earth, where the police and military kill with impunity, and so do the country's teeming criminal gangs. Loewenstein walks those mean streets -- except for a few neighborhoods even his local fixers deem too dangerous -- talking to activists, human rights workers, the family members of victims, community members, and local journalists to paint a chilling picture. (This is why Hondurans make up a large proportion of those human caravans streaming north to the US border. But unlike Venezuela, where mass flight in the face of violence and economic collapse is routinely condemned as a failure of socialism, you rarely hear any commentators calling the Honduran exodus a failure of capitalism.)

He reexamines one of the DEA's most deadly recent incidents, where four poor, innocent Hondurans were killed by Honduran troops working under DEA supervision in a raid whose parameters were covered up for years by the agency. Loewenstein engaged in extended communication with the DEA agent in charge, as well as with survivors and family members of those killed. Those people report they have never received an apology, not to mention compensation, from the Honduran military -- or from the United States. While the Honduran military fights the drug war with US dollars, Loewenstein shows it and other organs of the Honduran government are also deeply implicated in managing the drug traffic. And news headlines bring his story up to date: Just this month, the current, rightist president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, of meeting with and taking a bribe from a drug trafficker. This comes after his brother, former Honduran Senator Juan Antonio Hernández, was convicted of running tons of cocaine into the United States in a trial that laid bare the bribery, corruption, and complicity of high-level Hondurans in the drug trade, including the president.

Loewenstein also takes us to Guinea-Bissau, a West African country where 70 percent of the population subsists on less than $2 a day and whose biggest export is cashews. Or at least it was cashews. Since the early years of this century, the country has emerged as a leading destination for South American cocaine, which is then re-exported to the insatiable European market.

Plagued by decades of military coups and political instability, the country has never developed, and an Atlantic shoreline suited for mass tourism now serves mainly as a convenient destination for boatloads and planeloads of cocaine. Loewenstein visits hotels whose only clients are drug traffickers and remote fishing villages where the trade is an open secret and a source of jobs. He talks with security officials who frankly admit they have almost no resources to combat the trade, and he traces the route onward to Europe, sometimes carried by Islamic militants.

He also tells the tale of one exemplary drug bust carried out by a DEA SWAT team arguably in Guinean territorial waters that snapped up the country's former Navy minister. The DEA said he was involved in a "narco-terrorist" plot to handle cocaine shipments for Colombia's leftist FARC guerillas, who were designated as "terrorists" by the administration of Bush the Junior in a politically convenient melding of the wars on drugs and terror.

It turns out, though, there were no coke loads, and there was no FARC; there was only a DEA sting operation, with the conspiracy created out of whole cloth. While the case made for some nice headlines and showed the US hard at work fighting drugs, it had no demonstrable impact on the use of West Africa as a cocaine conduit, and it raised serious questions about the degree to which the US can impose its drug war anywhere it chooses.

Loewenstein also writes about Australia, England, and the United States, in each case setting the historical and political context, talking to all kinds of people, and laying bare the hideous cruelties of drug policies that exert their most terrible tolls on the poor and racial minorities. But he also sees glimmers of hope in things such as the movement toward marijuana legalization here and the spread of harm reduction measures in England and Australia.

He gets one niggling thing wrong, though, in his chapter on the US. He converses with Washington, DC, pot activists Alan Amsterdam and Adam Eidinger, the main movers behind DC's successful legalization initiative, but in his reporting on it, he repeatedly refers to DC as a state and once even mistakenly cites a legal marijuana sales figure from Washington state. (There are no legal sales in DC.) Yes, this is a tiny matter, but c'mon, Loewenstein is Australian, and he should know a political entity similar to Canberra, the Australian Capital Territory.

That quibble aside, Loewenstein has made a hardheaded but openhearted contribution to our understanding of the multifaceted malevolence of the never-ending war on drugs. And I didn't even mention his chapter on the Philippines. It's in there, it's as gruesome as you might expect, and it's very chilling reading.

Vorobyov, on the other hand, was born in Russia and emigrated to England as a child. He reached adulthood as a recreational drug user and seller -- until he was arrested on the London Underground and got a two-year sentence for carrying enough Ecstasy to merit a charge of possession with intent to distribute. After that interval, which he says inspired him to write his book, he got his university degree and moved back to Russia, where he picked up a gig at Russia Today before turning his talents to Dopeworld.

Dopeworld is not staid journalism. Instead, it is a twitchy mish-mash, jumping from topic to topic and continent to continent with the flip of a page, tracing the history of alcohol prohibition in the US at one turn, chatting up Japanese drug gangsters at the next, and getting hammered by ayahuasca in yet another. Vorobyov himself describes Dopeworld as "true crime, gonzo, social, historical memoir meets fucked up travel book."

Indeed. He relates his college-boy drug-dealing career with considerable panache. He parties with nihilistic middle-class young people and an opium-smoking cop in Tehran, he cops $7 grams of cocaine in Colombia and tours Pablo Escobar's house with the dead kingpin's brother as a tour guide, he has dinner with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's family in Mexico's Sinaloa state and pronounces them nice people ("really chill"), and he meets up with a vigilante killer in Manila.

Vorobyov openly says the unsayable when it comes to writing about the drug war and drug prohibition: Drugs can be fun! While Loewenstein is pretty much all about the victims, Vorobyov inhabits the global drug culture. You know: Dopeworld. Loewenstein would bemoan the utter futility of a record-breaking seizure of a 12-ton load of cocaine; Vorobyov laments, "that's 12 tons of cocaine that will never be snorted."

Vorobyov is entertaining and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and he brings a former dope dealer's perspective to bear. He's brash and breezy, but like Loewenstein, he's done his homework as well as his journalistic fieldwork, and the result is fascinating. To begin to understand what the war on drugs has done to people and countries around the planet, this pair of books makes an essential introduction. And two gripping reads.

Dopeworld: Adventures in the Global Drug Trade by Niko Vorobyov (August 2020, St. Martin's Press, hardcover, 432 pp., $29.99)

Pills, Powder, and Smoke: Inside the Bloody War on Drugs by Antony Loewenstein (November 2019, Scribe, paperback, 368 pp., $19.00)

Chronicle AM: SF to Open Street Meth Center, Filipino Top Cop Says Bloody Drug War Failed, More... (2/7/20)

Connecticut top lawmakers roll out the governor's marijuana legalization bill, San Francisco moves to open a street meth treatment facility in the Tenderloin, and more. 

An all-female hemp field. South Dakota could be the next state to legalize industrial hemp production. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Top Lawmakers File Governor's Marijuana Legalization Bill. Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney (D) and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D) on Thursday filed the "Governor's Bill" (SB 16) to legalize marijuana. The measure supported by Gov. Ned Lamont (D) would allow people 21 and over to possess and buy up to an ounce and a half of weed from a licensed retailer. The measure also includes several social equity provisions, including expungement, allowing those with past convictions to work in the industry, and language that would support businesses operated by people from communities most harmed by the drug war. The bill will now be heard by the Joint Judiciary Committee.

Hemp

South Dakota Hemp Bill Advances. A bill to legalize the growth and transportation of hemp in the state, HB1008B, passed out of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee Thursday morning. The bill was first heavily amended by a skeptical Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who vetoed a similar bill last year. The measure now heads for a House floor vote.

Harm Reduction

San Francisco to Open Street Meth Treatment Center. The city is set to open a center for people experiencing methamphetamine-induced psychosis in the Tenderloin neighborhood later this spring. The 24-hour center, to be located on a city-operated parking lot, is aimed at getting people off the streets and connecting them with treatment and other services. It will include two tents housing 15 beds each.

International

Philippines Drug War Enforcement Chief Says "Shock and Awe" Campaign Has Failed. Coloneal Romeo Caramat, head of drug enforcement for the Philippine National Police, has said the President Rodrigo Duterte's ultra-violent drug war has not been effective. "Shock and awe definitely did not work, he told Reuters. "Drug supply is still rampant. Crime has declined somewhat, he added, but drug users can still buy drugs "anytime, anywhere" in the country. A Duterte spokesman declined to comment on Caramat's remarks, but last month said "we are winning the war on drugs."

Drug War Issues

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