Andean Drug War

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AR Legal Pot Campaign Sues to Get Back on Ballot, Honduras Coca Production, More... (8/5/22)

Coca grower factions continue to clash in Bolivia, Colombia'w new president will move to decriminalize drugs, and more.

A coca lab in Honduras. (HSDN)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Campaign Sues to Get Initiative Back on the Ballot. Responsible Growth Arkansas, the group behind a marijuana legalization initiative has filed suit against the State Board of Election Commissioners after the board earlier this week declined to certify the measure for the November ballot even though it had surpassed the required number of valid voter signatures. The board contended that the ballot title and description did not adequately describe the initiative, but Responsible Growth Arkansas says the board made an "incorrect" decision and "denied the wishes of hundreds of thousands of Arkansans to have the opportunity to vote on the Amendment." 

International

Bolivia Coca Conflict Continues. Competing coca grower union factions, one affiliated with the government of President Luis Arce and the other opposed, continued to clash in La Paz this week. Adepcoca, which is the nation's largest coca union, is divided, with one faction now calling for the resignation of Minister of Rural Development Remmy Gonzales. And they are demanding the closure of a "parallel market" administered by coca union leader Arnold Alanez, whom the government recognizes as the leader of Adepcoca, and have filed a lawsuit against the government to force its closure. There are only two recognized coca markets, the Adepcoca market in La Paz and the Sacaba market in Cochabamba, and the Adepcoca growers say the third market is "illegal."

Colombia's Incoming Government Will Move to Decriminalize Drugs. The incoming administration of leftist President-elect Gustavo Petro is preparing drug policy proposals including drug decriminalization as it faces record cocaine production and violence from illegal armed groups and traffickers involved in the trade. Petro takes office on Sunday. His drug policy coordinator, Felipe Tascon, said that Petro also wants to end forced eradication of coca crops and instead concentrate on developing the rural economy. Tascon added that Petro will "speak up louder internationally" to explain that the problem is not drugs but "the problems drug prohibition created" and that "Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil, if Lula wins, as progressive countries affected by narcotics can propose it as a block."

Honduras Sends in Military to Stop Illegal Coca Production. Honduran soldiers this week were on a mission to destroy a 75-acre coca field in the rugged mountains of Colon department. It's part of an effort by leftist President Xiomara Castro to prevent the country from becoming a cocaine producer. "In the operation, we are carrying out [they have seized] around 42 manzanas of coca bushes, with an approximate yield of one million 600 plants," the military said. There were also "eight nurseries with 50,000 plants ready for transplanting, six drug laboratories" and "three blocks of marijuana." More than 2.6 million coca plants have been seized this year, the military said. "We already have problems with being a transit and consumer country, but being a producer country would generate a criminality that we could not possibly control," it added.

AR Legalization Init Has Enough Signatures, UN Experts Criticize Singapore Drug Executions, More... (7/29/22)

Marijuana seizures at the US-Mexican border are down again, Colombia's Gulf Clan is escalating its attacks on police as it jockeys for position in upcoming negotations, and more.

San Francisco could become the largest US city to decriminalize psychedelics. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Feds Report Significant Year-Over-Year Decline in Marijuana Seizures at the US Border. The amount of marijuana seized at the US-Mexico border has dropped dramatically this fiscal year, with seizures averaging 408 pounds a day, down from an average of 874 pounds a day during FY 2021, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Other drug seizures at the border are up, but the decline in marijuana seizures is part of a consistent downward trend in recent year. As the DEA has noted, "In US markets, Mexican marijuana has largely been supplanted by domestic-produced marijuana."

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Set to Qualify for Ballot. State officials have confirmed that a marijuana legalization initiative from Responsible Growth Arkansas has submitted enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. But the state Board of Election Commissioners must first approve the popular name and ballot title of the measure. It would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by people 21 and over, but not home cultivation. It would also set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

Psychedelics

San Francisco Psychedelic Decriminalization Resolution Filed. Supervisors Dean Preston (D) and Hillary Ronen (D) have filed a resolution to decriminalize psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. The resolution also calls for broader statewide reform. If the resolution is passed, San Francisco would be the most populous city in the country to decriminalize psychedelics.

International

Colombia's Gulf Clan Trafficking Group Stepping Up Attacks on Police. The Gulf Clan, the country's most powerful drug trafficking organization, is stepping up a campaign of violence against police that began in May, when its leader, Dario Antonio Usuga, known as "Otoniel," was extradited to the United States to face trafficking charges. But now, as the country approaches the transfer of power from conservative President Ivan Duque to leftist former guerrilla Gustavo Petro, is ratcheting up the violence, apparently in a bid to bolster its prospects in potential negotiations with the new government. At least 25 police officers have been killed by the Gulf Clan, 12 of them in the last month, and three in just the past week.

UN Experts Call for Immediate Moratorium on Singapore Executions for Drug Offenses. UN experts have condemned the execution of Nazeri Bin Lajim, a 64-year-old Malay Singaporean national convicted of drug offenses and urged the Government of Singapore to halt plans to execute individuals on death row for drug-related charges. There has been a sharp rise in execution notices issued in Singapore this year.

Nazeri Bin Lajim was arrested in April 2012 and convicted for trafficking 33.39 grams of diamorphine under the 1973 Misuse of Drugs Act in September 2019. The mandatory death penalty was subsequently imposed in his case and enforced on 22 July 2022. "Under international law, States that have not yet abolished the death penalty may only impose it for the 'most serious crimes', involving intentional killing," the experts said. "Drug offences clearly do not meet this threshold."

The experts reiterated that, as per the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention's report on arbitrary detention relating to drug policies andits subsequent jurisprudence, imposing the death penalty for drug-related offenses is incompatible with international standards on the use of the death penalty.

DEA Backs Off on Banning Five New Psychedelics, Colombia's ELN Hints at Peace Talks with New President, More... (7/25/22)

Signature gatherers are criss-crossing the Cowboy State for a pair of marijuana initiatives, the US and India sign a joint agreement on cooperating against the drug trade, and more.

tryptamine molecule (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Wyoming Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Signature-Gathering Drive Chugging Right Along. Organizers of a pair of marijuana initiatives, the Wyoming Patient Cannabis Act and the Wyoming Cannabis Amendments, are at the midpoint of an 18-month-long signature-gathering window and already have about 17,000 raw voter signatures to qualify for the 2024 ballot. They need 41,776 valid voter signatures to make the ballot. One initiative would legalize medical marijuana; the other would remove criminal penalties for possessing or using marijuana.

Psychedelics

DEA Reverses Course, Will Not Ban Five New Psychedelics. Back in January, the DEA announced that it was moving to place five new psychedelics, all tryptamines, on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I is reserved for substances with a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. But there was significant public pushback on the proposed role, including at a DEA public hearing where researchers and advocates made the case for not regulating the substances. Last Friday, DEA announced it had withdrawn the potential rule. The five new psychedelics are 4-Hydroxy-N,N-diisopropyltryptamine (4-OH-DiPT), 5-Methoxy-alphamethyltryptamine (5-MeO-AMT), N-Isopropyl-5-Methoxy-N-Methyltryptamine (5-MeO-MiPT), N,N-Diethyl-5-methoxytryptamine (5-MeO-DET), and N,N-Diisopropyltryptamine (DiPT).

Foreign Policy

US, India Ink Agreement on Fighting Drug Traffic. The State Department announced last Friday that India and the United States have signed an Amended Letter of Agreement (ALOA) in the field of narcotics control and law enforcement cooperation. The signing took place during the third meeting of the India-US Counternarcotics Working Group (CNWG) held in New Delhi on July 7-8. "Representatives from relevant agencies responsible for law enforcement, policy formulation, drug demand reduction, and other drug-related matters, participated in the deliberations on wide-ranging issues related to drug demand, narcotics trafficking, regulatory and control efforts, and cooperation on enforcement and criminal investigations," the State Department said. Both countries agreed to increase coordination and information-sharing on the drug trade, as well as fighting unregulated chemicals and pharmaceuticals being diverted into the black market. They also agreed to include drug demand reduction topics in the working group.

International

Colombia's ELN Hints at Peace Talks with Incoming President. After the FARC laid down its arms in 2016 as part of an agreement with the Colombian government, the largest remaining leftist rebel group in the countryis the National Liberation Army (ELN). Now, ELN leader Eliécer Erlinto Chamorro says that the group is interested in reaching a peace deal with leftist incoming President Gustavo Petro. "We hear voices from the new government about a different policy against drug trafficking: 'the war on drug trafficking must be ended', for being a policy that did not produce positive results. We agree, but it is not enough," he explained. "The new government says it is interested in peace in Colombia, the ELN too. We have listened to their messages and we are in the best disposition to resume talks to fill peace, with contents of social justice and democracy," the revolutionary leader said. "It is about ending drug trafficking once and for all. To build that solution, the country can count on us," he added. The ELN is one of numerous armed actors on the left and right that have financed their activities through the drug trade.

Chronicle Book Review: Opium's Orphans

Chronicle Book Review: Opium's Orphans: The 200-Year History of the War on Drugs by P.E. Caquet (2022, Reaktion Books, 400 pp., $35.00 HB)

The history of drug prohibition is increasingly well-trodden territory, but with Opium's Orphans, British historian P.E. Caquet brings a fascinating new perspective embedded in a sweeping narrative and fortified with an erudite grasp of the broad global historical context. Although Asian bans on opium pre-dated 19th Century China (the Thai monarchy announced a ban in the 1400s), for Caquet, the critical moment in what became a linear trajectory toward global drug prohibition a century later came when the Qing emperor banned opium in 1813 and imposed severe penalties on anything to do with it, including possessing it. Precisely 100 years later, after two Opium Wars imposed opium on the empire followed by decades of diplomatic wrangling over how to suppress the trade (and for moralizing Americans, how to win favor with China), the 1913 Hague Opium Convention ushered in the modern war on drugs with its targeting not just of opium (and coca) producers or sellers but also of mere users for criminal prosecution. It urged countries to enact such laws, and they did.

What began at the Hague would eventually grow into an international anti-drug bureaucracy, first in the League of Nations and then in United Nations bodies such as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the International Narcotics Control Board. But it is a global prohibition regime that has, Caquet writes, straight-jacketed itself with an opium-based perspective that has proven unable or unwilling to recognize the differences among the substances over which it seeks dominion, reflexively resorting to opium and its addiction model. Drugs such as amphetamines, psychedelics, and marijuana don't really fit that model -- they are the orphans of the book's title -- and in a different world would be differently regulated.

But Opium's Orphans isn't just dry diplomatic history. Caquet delves deep into the social, cultural, and political forces driving drug use and drug policies. His description of the spread of opium smoking among Chinese elites before it spread into the masses and became declasse is both finely detailed and strangely evocative of the trajectory of cocaine use in the United States in the 1970s, when it was the stuff of rock musicians and Hollywood stars before going middle class and then spreading among the urban poor in the form of crack.

Along the way, we encounter opium merchants and colonial opium monopolies, crusading missionary moralists, and early Western proponents of recreational drug use, such as Confessions of an English Opium Eater author Thomas De Quincey and the French habitues of mid-19th Century hashish clubs. More contemporaneously, we also meet the men who achieved international notoriety in the trade in prohibited drugs, "drug lords" such as Khun Sa in the Golden Triangle, Pablo Escobar in Colombia and El Chapo Guzman in Mexico, as well as the people whose job it is to hunt them down. Caquet notes that no matter how often a drug lord is removed -- jailed or killed, in most cases -- the impact on the trade is negligible.

For Caquet, drug prohibition as a global phenomenon peaked with the adoption of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Coming as it did amidst a post-World War II decline in drug use around the world, the treaty criminalizing coca, cocaine, opium and opioids, and marijuana seemed to ratify a successful global prohibitionist effort. (In the US, in the 1950s, when domestic drug use was at low ebb, Congress passed tough new drug laws.) But before the decade was over, drug prohibition was under flamboyant challenge from the likes of LSD guru Timothy Leary and a horde of hippie pot smokers. The prohibitionist consensus was seeing its first cracks.

And the prohibitionist response was to crack down even harder, which in turn begat its own backlash. Drug use of all sorts began rising around the world in the 1960s and hasn't let up yet, and the increasingly omnivorous drug war machine grew right along with it, as did the wealth and power of the illicit groups that provided the drugs the world demanded. As the negative impacts of the global drug war -- from the current opioid overdose crisis in the US to the prisons filled with drug offenders to the bloody killing fields of Colombia and Mexico -- grew ever more undeniable, the critiques grew ever sharper.

In recent years, the UN anti-drug bureaucrats have been forced to grudgingly accept the notion of harm reduction, although they protest bitterly over such interventions as safe injection sites. For them, harm reduction is less of an erosion of the drug war consensus than all that talk of drug legalization. As Caquet notes, perhaps a tad unfairly, harm reduction doesn't seek to confront drug prohibition head-on, but to mitigate its harms.

The man is a historian, not a policymaker, and his response to questions about what to do now is "I wouldn't start from here." Still, at the end of it all, he has a trio of observations: First, supply reduction ("suppression" is his word) does not work. Sure, you can successfully wipe out poppies in Thailand or Turkey, but they just pop up somewhere else, like the Golden Triangle or Afghanistan. That's the infamous balloon effect. Second, "criminalization of the drug user has been a huge historical blunder." It has no impact on drug use levels, is cruel and inhumane, and it didn't have to be that way. A century ago, countries could have agreed to regulate the drug trade; instead, they tried to eradicate it in an ever-escalating, never-ending crusade. Third, illicit drugs as a group should be seen "as a historical category, not a scientific one." Different substances demand different approaches.

Opium's Orphans is a fascinating, provocative, and nuanced account of the mess we've gotten ourselves into. Now, we continue the work of trying to get out of that mess.

House Approves SAFE Banking Again, Colombia Cocaine Production Down Slightly, More... (7/15/22)

The NYPD reverses course on testing cops for marijuana, Colorado's governor signs an executive order protecting marijuana-using workers from discrimination, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Coca and cocaine production remained relatively stable at high levels last year. (Pixabay)
House Approves More Marijuana Amendments as Part of Defense Spending Bill. The House on Thursday approved a half dozen marijuana amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, including amendments to protect banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses and allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients. The banking amendment came from Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and contains the language of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which has been included in other omnibus spending bills only to be stripped out in conference committee by Senate leadership, which is still holding out for a full-fledged marijuana legalization bill.

Colorado Governor Issues Executive Order to Protect Marijuana Users from Workplace Discrimination. Gov. Jared Polis (D) has issued an executive order designed to protect workers from being punished or denied a professional license for using, possessing, or growing marijuana. The order includes people from other states. "The exclusion of people from the workforce because of marijuana-related activities that are lawful in Colorado, but still criminally penalized in other states, hinders our residents, economy and our State," said Polis. The order also directs the state Department of Regulatory Agencies to not provide information to aid in professional investigations related to legal marijuana-related activities in the state.

NYPD Says It Will Stop Testing Cops for Weed, Then Reverses Course. The NYPD on Wednesday announced it would quit drug testing officers for marijuana, only to reverse course within a matter of hours. "The New York City Law Department has directed the NYPD to cease all random, scheduled and pre-employment testing for marijuana," an NYPD spokeswoman said early Wednesday. "The Department will continue to administer marijuana screenings to personnel when there are indications of impairment and is reviewing its current policies in light of this directive." But later in the day, an NYPD spokesman said that the department was in discussions with the Law Department about possible conflicts with federal law and that in the meantime, it was back to the old policy. "While these discussions continue, there is no change in NYPD policies, procedures, or testing protocols regarding the use of Marijuana by uniformed members of the service," the spokesperson announced.

International

Colombian Coca, Cocaine Production Fell Slightly Last Year, Drug Czar's Office Says. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) reported Thursday that Colombia had seen slight reductions in coca cultivation and cocaine production in 2021. Estimated coca cultivation dropped from 600,000 acres to 578,000, while estimated cocaine production dropped from 994 tons in 2020 to 972 tons last year. Despite billions of dollars in US anti-drug and counter-insurgency funding over the past several decades, Colombia remains one of the world's top cocaine producer, with leftist rebel factions, former rightist paramilitaries, and criminal gangs competing earn black market profits from the trade. ONDCP also reported that Peruvian cocaine production and coca cultivation dropped slightly as well last year, but production was up slightly in Bolivia, leaving global cocaine production at near record levels.

Senate Democrats' Legal Weed Bill Coming Next Week, Peru Seeks US Help With Cocaine Planes, More... (7/14/22)

Some marijuana and psychedelic amendments have made it into a defense spending bill, Germany's Left Party is calling for drug decriminalization, and more.

Marijuana is on the agenda on Capitol Hill. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Approves Marijuana and Psychedelic Amendments to Defense Spending Bill. The House on Wednesday voted to includes a pair of amendments on psychedelic research and one that would require the military to study marijuana-related discrimination in the armed forces as part of an omnibus defense spending bill. Another half dozen marijuana-related amendments remain to be voted on before a final vote on the defense bill. The psychedelic amendments would require research into the therapeutic potential of substances such as psilocybin, MDMA, and ibogaine and one of them is aimed at active duty service members with PTSD.

Senate Democrats' Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming Next Week. A legalization bill backed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) is set to be filed next week. The Senate Democratic leadership is pushing the bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, even as it comes under criticism that it is blocking consideration of incremental reforms that would give state-legal marijuana businesses access to banking and financial services. The House has already passed its own marijuana legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617).

International

Germany's Left Opposition Party Calls for Drug Decriminalization. Even as the country moves down the path toward marijuana legalization, the Left Party (Die Linke) is calling for the decriminalization of so-called hard drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. The party is proposing a "fundamental rethink" of national drug policy and is calling for addicts to be given access to small amounts of drugs under "therapeutic support." Drug users must be "consistently protected from criminal prosecution," the party said in its motion. Die Linke said the move would free up police resources for more important matters. "Police, public prosecutors, courts and last but not least medical facilities must be relieved and be able to concentrate on important public welfare tasks," the party said.<

Peru Wants US Help to Stop Cocaine Trafficking Planes. Peru has since March been seeking an accord with the US to allow "non-lethal" support for intercepting drug-carrying planes headed for global markets. The US once provided air support for Peruvian efforts to intercept planes, but that program ended two decades ago after the Peruvian Air Force mistakenly shot down a plane that was carrying US missionaries, killing two of them. Ricardo Soberon, head of DEVIDA, the national anti-drug agency, said global demand is undermining eradication efforts on the ground and that it was time to review the "principle of shared responsibility." He added that talks with the US are ongoing: "The process now is strictly one of bilateral negotiation. The Peruvian Foreign Ministry has it in its hands, so we hope to finish that as soon as possible." He said he expects to travel to Washington in the fall to meet with State Department officials to discuss the matter.

PA Governor Signs Pot Banking Protection Bill, RIP Ann Shulgin, Violence in Peru's Coca Zone, More... (7/12/22)

Pennsylvania will provide some protections to banks and insurers doing business with marijuana companies, a Florida therapeutic psilocybin bill is filed, and more.

psychedelic pioneer Ann Shulgin (MAPS)
Marijuana Policy

California Awards $1.7 Million in Grants to Support Sustainable Marijuana Cultivation. State officials have announced that have handed out more than $1.7 million in grants to promote sustainable marijuana cultivation practices. The funding is coming from the Qualified Cultivator Grant Program with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife's Cannabis Restoration Grant Program. The grants are going to qualifying nonprofits, government entities, and tribes, who will then distribute the money to individual grower applicants. This is just the first round of grants under the program, which will total $6 million through April 2023.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Marijuana Banking and Insurance Reform Bill into Law. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Monday signed into law House Bill 311, which includes provisions to protect banks and insurers who work with state-legal medical marijuana businesses. The measure does not protect banks and insurers from any federal repercussions but sends a signal to the financial services industry that it won't face repercussions under state law. The new law says that a "financial institution authorized to engage in business in this Commonwealth may provide financial services to or for the benefit of a legitimate cannabis-related business and the business associates of a legitimate cannabis-related business." And ditto for insurance companies.

Psychedelics

Psychedelic Pioneer Ann Shulgin Dead at 91. Ann Shulgin, who along with her husband Sasha co-authored the pioneering psychedelic classics PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story and TiHKAL: The Continuation. The two acronyms refer to phenelthylamines and triptamines I have known and loved, and the two volumes are compendiums of recipes for hundreds of psychedelic substances. Sasha was the chemist, but Ann was the therapist, and worked with drugs such as MDMA in therapeutic settings when it was still legal. Shulgin continued to advocate for the therapeutic use of psychedelics throughout her life. She spent the last eight years as a widow after Sasha Shulgin died in 2014.

Florida Bill to Legalize Psilocybin for Therapeutic Use Filed. Rep. Michael Grieco (D) has filed the Florida Psilocybin Mental Health Care Act, which would create state-sponsored clinics where patients suffering from mental health disorders could be administered microdoses of psilocybin by a licensed medical professional. The patient would go through the experience under the therapist's supervision and then be offered a post-trip counseling session. The bill comes after earlier bills to study therapeutic psilocybin died in committee in the Republican-controlled legislature.

International

Drug Traffickers in Fresh Round of Violence Against Peru's Indigenous Communities. Indigenous leaders in the Peruvian Amazon have announced that multiple killings of members of the Native Federation of Kakataibos Communities (Federación Nativa de Comunidades Kakataibos -- FENACOKA) in the departments of Ucayla and Huanaco. Four leaders of the federation have been killed since 2019, the group said. The group says the indigenous communities it represents have been subject to worsening intimidation and violence since asking the Peruvian government for support in eradicating coca crops. Last month, armed drug traffickers beat and threatened to kill one community member, demanding that he tell them where to find the leaders who "brought the Navy" to eradicate coca. In another incident last month, three community members were threatened by traffickers and forced to flee their homes. The remote area has become a favorite for traffickers because the presence of the Peruvian state is so attenuated there.

No Drug Decrim Init in WA This Year, Colombia Truth Commission Calls for Legal, Regulated Drugs... (6/29/22)

A House committee has advanced an amendment to protect state-legal marijuana businesses, the DC city council votes to let adults "self-certify" for a medical marijuana card, and more.

A Colombian coca farmer. The country's truth commission is calling for big changes. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

House Appropriations Committee Approves Amendment to Protect Legal State Marijuana Programs. The House Committee on Appropriations voted Tuesday to approve an amendment that would prevent the Department of Justice from interfering with legal adult-use marijuana programs as part of the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies appropriations legislation for Fiscal Year 2023. The bipartisan amendment, introduced by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and David Joyce (R-OH), with the non-committee support of past champions Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tom McClintock (R-CA), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), would bar the DOJ from using resources to interfere with the ability of states, territories, tribal governments, or the District of Columbia to implement laws and regulations governing the legal and regulated production, sale, and use of cannabis by adults or to target people acting in compliance with those laws.

Medical Marijuana

DC Council Ends Requirement for Doctor's Recommendation Before Buying Medical Marijuana. The DC Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill eliminating the requirement that people seeking to purchase medical marijuana first obtain a doctor's recommendation. The bill allows city residents 21 and over to "self-certify" they need marijuana for medicinal purposes when they register for a patient card. The bill now goes to Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), who has indicated she supports the measure.

Drug Policy

Washington Activists End Bid to Put Drug Decriminalization Initiative on November Ballot, Cite Cost of Signature-Gathering. Commit to Change WA, the people behind a proposed drug decriminalization initiative, said Monday that it was halting efforts to qualify for the ballot this year and would instead work with the legislature to try to pass a decriminalization bill next year. "We will not be moving forward to qualify Washington State Initiative Measure No. 1922 to the November 8 general election ballot," the group said. "Signature gathering proved more challenging and prohibitively expensive than projected." The decision to quit comes even as new polling shows that two-thirds of state voters would have voted for the measure after reading the ballot language. "Though the proposed Initiative 1922 will no longer be on Washington ballots this November, legislators in the state must note that Washington voters are ready to end the War on Drugs and want to start treating substance use issues with compassion and data-backed policies," the pollsters said.

International

Colombian Truth Commission Calls for "Strict Legal Regulation of Drugs, End to Drug War. A truth commission appointed as part of the 2016 peace accords with the leftist guerrillas of the FARC called on Tuesday for the government to quit focusing on suppressing illicit drugs and instead take the global lead in moving to "strict legal regulation" of those substances. It recommended a new approach to illicit drug production that focuses more on sustainable development and less on the eradication of coca.

The commission offered a scathing critique of the country's drug war, backed by the United States. "The current drug policy is ineffective in preventing consumption," the panel writes in a nearly 900-page report. "The policy of the war on drugs and narcotrafficking has been a factor in the persistence of conflict and violence in Colombia." The commission is also calling for sweeping reforms of the criminal justice system and separating the National Police from the Ministry of Defense.

The commission's recommendations are non-binding, but incoming President Gustavo Petro has said he will follow them.

Leftist Former Guerrilla and Drug War Critic Gustavo Petro Wins Colombian Presidency [FEATURE]

In an election that has overturned a decades-long status quo in Colombian politics, former leftist guerrilla and Bogota mayor Gustavo Petro won the presidency on Sunday. He beat his competitor, Trumpian businessman Rodolfo Hernández, by a margin of 50.44% to 47.03%, with 100 percent of the votes counted.

Colombia's next president, Gustavo Petro (Creative Commons)
Petro's victory is the latest win in a Latin American "pink tide," with leftists recently winning presidential elections in Bolivia, Chile, Honduras and Peru, and poised to take power once again in Brazil.

What to do about the country's booming coca and cocaine trade and the violence that surrounds it was a central theme in the campaign -- with both candidates critical of a war on drugs intertwined with a ferocious counterinsurgency financed by the United States to the tune of $20 billion since the days of Plan Colombia and paid for with the blood of hundreds of thousands of Colombians.

Even the conservative Hernández, a wealthy real estate developer, suggested giving drugs to addicts as a means of ending drug trade violence. "If we give drug addicts free drugs, be it intravenous, aspiration, or oral, then the demand is over. Nobody buys again," Hernández said in a campaign speech last week. "And if they don't buy [drugs] because we give them to users, the sale is over and the drug is over."

Petro, for his part, has called for legalizing marijuana. "The issue of marijuana seems stupid to me to keep it underground," he said in a recent interview. "Ex-presidents' relatives do the business of exporting legal marijuana and, on the other hand, they throw bombs at the peasants and their children who produce marijuana in [the southwestern province of] Cauca. The possibility of legal exportation of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes through licenses from the national government has friends with political power in Colombia. If Colombia does not get its act together, we're going to lose that business."

But he has also been harshly critical of broader drug prohibition. Last month, he asked whether "the million dead Latin Americans -- the majority Colombians and Mexicans -- has been worth it. Drugs are so demonized that it's politically correct to say 'let's ban them and start a war,' but we never consider the consequences."

Colombia "doesn't need more violence" to stop the drug war, he said. "The drug war is fought with capitalism. It is not with lead or with more violence."

He advocates for voluntary crop substitution instead of forced eradication for coca farmers and has promised to use marijuana as a substitute crop.

His position on coca and cocaine legalization was artfully unclear during the campaign, but there is a bill that would authorize a pilot project to directly buy coca from farmers in areas hardest hit by drug trafficking and state violence and allow the government to set a legal coca market price. While the bill gained some backing since in was introduced in 2020, it has languished in limbo under the anti-reformist outgoing President Ivan Duque. Whether the bill will now move under Petro will be an early indicator of his policy positions.

Sanho Tree is director of the Drug Policy Project at the Washington, DC-based Institute for Policy Studies, and has been studying and traveling to Colombia for years. He was nearly at a loss for words.

"I'm still processing this," he told the Chronicle. "I didn't expect him to live this long, much less win. But they fear the vice president [the country's first female Afro-Colombian to hold the office, Francia Márquez] even more, so that's sort of an insurance policy. It's been 20 years of disappointment, horrors, and setbacks, so this is just a moment of unbridled joy," he said.

"This is a step forward for drug policy, human rights, and civil society, and you have Chile and Brazil -- if Lula wins as it looks he will, there will be a powerful triangular bloc in South America that could eclipse even US influence," Tree said.

And that's not the only potential new alignment Tree foresees. "With Bolivia and Peru, and now Colombia, we could see a regional coca bloc," he said.

And unlike his predecessor, said Tree, Petro will take the 2016 peace accords with the FARC seriously and actually try to implement them. The accords were supposed to bring peace to the countryside, but were opposed by Duque, and once the FARC demobilized, violent rightist paramilitaries and leftist guerrilla factions filled the vacuum as the state failed to provide promised alternative development assistance.

"Duque is an Uribista [ally of former ultra-conservative President Alvaro Uribe, who has been linked to the rightist paramilitaries] and hated the guerrillas," Tree said. "He never wanted peace and he sure wasn't going to help any of them. It was a huge opportunity lost and there was a huge sense of betrayal. In many ways, it is as dangerous as ever for NGOs and human rights defenders, and the state has done nothing. They should have seized the opportunity in 2016, but it was all about Trumpian vengeance instead."

Petro will "take the peace treaties seriously," Tree said. "He will invest in rural communities, and that will make a big difference in daily life for people. Right now, it makes a lot of sense for farmers to grow coca because it is such a valuable crop, but it is also very violent and dangerous. Many farmers would rather not be in that business, and if they don't have to participate in that economy, that could be really helpful."

Tree pointed to the positive experience of Bolivia under Evo Morales.

"With Morales in Bolivia, instead of forced eradication and violence, they stopped that and went a regulated supply -- 40 square meters per family -- and that allowed them to have food security and a predictable income stream, and that allows people to diversify local economies. You can do these kinds of economic experiments once you have a little food security."

Also, said Tree, "fumigation will be off the table."

There is an opportunity for positive change in Colombia, especially around drug policy. Now, it is time for Petro to prove himself.

Australian Capital Territory Decriminalizes Drug Possession, Malaysia Ends Mandatory Death Penalties, More... (6/10/22)

The State Department is looking for drones to spray Colombian coca crops, Thailand begins handing out a million marijuana plants, and more.

A Colombian coca farmer. Are drones coming for his crop? (DEAmuseum.org)
Foreign Policy

US Wants to Use Drones to Kill Coca Plants in Colombia. The State Department is looking for drones to use to spray herbicides on farmers' coca crops, a newly released request on a government website reveals. "The Department of State, INL Bogota, has a requirement to purchase spray UAV systems to support eradication operations throughout Colombia," the request reads. The program would be under the control of the Colombian National Police. The State Department says drones would lessen threats to personnel involved in coca eradication in the country, one of the world's top cocaine producers. "Coca cultivation in Colombia remains at record highs and eradication operations in Colombia remain dangerous. INL Bogota is seeking to bolster the CNP’s capability to increase the coca eradication rates and minimize the risk for police personnel in the field."

International

Australian Capital Territory to Decriminalize Drug Possession. The government of the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra) announced Thursday that it will decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs, including cocaine, heroin, MDMA, and methamphetamine. It will become the first jurisdiction in the country to do so. Under the new law, people in possession of less than the threshold amounts of the drugs will be fined, but not arrested. Some, though, can have their fines waived if they attend an informative session on harm reduction or enter drug treatment. "We know from research and evidence around the world that criminalizing drug users does not reduce drug use and that treating drug addiction as a health issue improves outcomes for everyone in the community," said ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith.

Malaysia to Abolish Mandatory Death Penalty, Including for Drug Offenses. The Malaysian government said Friday it will end the mandatory death penalty for various offenses, including drug offenses, and replace it with "alternative punishments" at the discretion of judges. "This shows the government's emphasis on ensuring that the rights of all parties are protected and guaranteed, reflecting the transparency of the country's leadership in improving the criminal justice system," Law Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said. The country had declared a moratorium on executions in 2018 but laws imposing the mandatory death sentence remained and courts were required to impose those sentences on convicted drug traffickers. The country currently has more than 1,350 under death sentences, including 925 convicted of drug-related offenses. More than 500 of those under death sentences are foreigners.

Thailand Begins Distributing a Million Marijuana Plants. Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakulkicked off a marijuana plant giveaway in Bangkok Friday, handing out the first hundred seedlings of what is planned to be a million-plant distribution. The giveaway is designed to encourage marijuana production, which government officials say will help low-income farmers, especially in the northeast. Charnvirakul was cheered by a crowd of thousands as he took credit for legalizing marijuana. The government insists that, officially, only medical marijuana has been legalized, but there are no plans to monitor small-scale cultivation. 

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