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Russian Court Sentences American Basketball Star Brittney Griner to Nine Years in Prison

A Russian judge sentenced American basketball star Brittney Griner Thursday to nine years in a Russian penal colony after earlier being found of bringing cannabis oil into the country in her luggage. The guilty verdict was virtually a foregone conclusion in a criminal justice system that wins convictions in 99 percent of cases.

This is what got Brittney Griner a nine year sentence.
Russian authorities detained Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) star, just a week before Russia invaded Ukraine, and she is widely viewed as having become a pawn in the conflict between Washington and Moscow over the war. Griner's attorneys say they will appeal the verdict.

President Biden, who has been under pressure to win her release from her wife and the athletic community and whose administration is attempting to negotiate a prisoner swap for Griner, called her sentence "unacceptable," and vowed to continue to make every effort to free her.

The US has offered a prisoner swap of Griner and another imprisoned American, Paul Whelan, in return for Russian arms dealer Victor Bout, who is currently serving a 25-year sentence in the US for conspiring to sell arms to Colombia's leftist rebels, the FARC. But the Russians have so far demurred, first saying that Griner's trial had to finish and, more recently, showing littler interest in the matter.

While Griner's sentence seems stiff to Western sensibilities, it is in line with Russia's draconian, zero-tolerance drug laws. Drug offenders make up a quarter of the country's prison population. As Penn State University law professor William Butler noted: "To many in the US, nine years' imprisonment may seem like a harsh penalty for cannabis possession. But in Russia, it is par for the course for this crime."

Another American citizen, 61-year old Marc Fogel, is currently serving a 14-year sentence in Russia for marijuana possession. Fogel and his wife were returning to Russia for the last year of a ten year teaching stint, when he was caught. According to family, Fogel uses marijuana to treat chronic back pain.

Feds Charge Four Louisville Cops in Fatal Breonna Taylor Drug Raid, Thai Cannabis Tourism, More... (8/4/22)

Arkansas election officials knock a marijuana legalization initiative off the ballot -- at least for now -- San Francisco's new DA cracks down on drug dealers, and more.

Kentucky did not do it, but maybe the federal government can obtain justice for Breonna Taylor.
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Panel Rejects Marijuana Legalization Initiative. The state Board of Election Commissioners on Wednesday blocked a marijuana legalization initiative from Responsible Growth Arkansas from appearing on the ballot in November. The board rejected the popular name and ballot title for the measure, which has already accumulated enough voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. Responsible Growth Arkansas says it will appeal to the state Supreme Court. The board said it rejected the measure because members believed the ballot title didn't fully explain the measure's impact, but Responsible Growth Arkansas said the amount of detail demanded would make the ballot title "thousands and thousands of words long."

Law Enforcement

Feds Charge Four Louisville Cops in Breonna Taylor Case. The FBI has charged four Louisville police officers for their actions leading up to and during a March 2020 drug raid on the apartment of medical worker Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police gunfire after her boyfriend shot at what he believed to be intruders trying to break into the residence. Those charged include former Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) officers Joshua Jaynes, Brett Hankison, and Kelly Hanna Goodlett, as well as current LMPD sergeant Kyle Meany was also arrested Thursday by the feds. The feds are charging the four with civil rights violations, which include charges of obstruction of justice for actions they took after the raid. The four officers largely escaped justice at the state level, with only one charged, and later acquitted -- not for shooting Taylor but for endangering the lives of neighbors by wildly shooting several rounds into the building. The killing of Taylor became a major rallying cry in the summer of protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

San Francisco DA Cracks Down on Drug Dealers. Newly-elected District Attorney Brooke Jenkins on Wednesday announced tougher new policies to hold drug dealers accountable, saying anyone caught with more than five grams of drugs would no longer be referred to the city's drug court, that she will make use of sentencing enhancements for drug dealing within a thousand feet of a school, and will seek pretrial detention of fentanyl dealers in "extreme" cases. The move comes as Jenkins replaces former progressive prosecutor Chesa Boudin, who was recalled amidst rising public concern over crime and squalor in the city. But the city's Public Defender called Jenkin's approach "regressive," saying it will disproportionately affect communities of color. "If District Attorney Jenkins truly wants to address the issues facing our city, she should not be relying on outdated and politically expedient soundbites about harsher enforcement," said Public Defender Mano Raju.

International

Brittney Griner Sentenced to 9 Years in Russian Penal Colony for Possessing Small Quantity of Cannabis Oil. American basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced Thursday to nine years in a Russian penal colony after earlier being found of bringing cannabis oil into the country in her luggage. The guilty verdict was virtually a foregone conclusion in a criminal justice system that wins convictions in 99 percent of cases. Griner was detained by Russian authorities just a week before it invaded Ukraine, and her case is widely seen as part of the broader conflict between Russia and the United States over that conflict. Griner's attorneys say they will appeal the verdict. President Biden, who has been under pressure to win her release from her wife and the athletic community and whose administration is attempting to negotiate a prisoner swap for Griner, called her sentence "unacceptable," and vowed to continue all-out efforts to get her home.

Cannabis Cafes Emerge in Thailand. "Several" cannabis cafes have opened in Bangkok since the country decriminalized cannabis in June, despite the government's warning that the law's relaxation did not include recreational marijuana use. Recreational use has exploded under the new law, something that government officials have tried to discourage. Now, a parliamentary committee is working on a bill that could rejigger the rules and possibly impact the cannabis cafes. In the meantime, one café owner said his place had "hundreds" of customers every day. "Europeans, Japanese, Americans -- they are looking for Thai sativa. Cannabis and tourism are a match," he said.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A small-town Pennsylvania got too friendly with the local drug dealer, a small-town Ohio cop probably wishes he had maintained domestic bliss, and more. 

In Ironton, Ohio, an Ironton police officer was arrested last Wednesday after a domestic dispute turned into a drug bust. Officer Bradley Spoljaric, 29, went down after Ironton police responded to a morning domestic disturbance call at his home. By that evening, he was arrested and charged with first-degree misdemeanor domestic violence, second-degree felony possession/trafficking in Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 dugs and third-degree felony tampering with evidence. That's about all we know. 

In Dickson City, Pennsylvania, a Dickson City police office was arrested last Thursday for revealing a confidential informant's identity to a drug dealer. Patrolman Brandon Muta, 23, drew suspicions when he grew angry upon learning that another officer's informant had identified a certain man as a meth dealer. Muta told a detective that the dealer sometimes supplied him with information. Days later, that informant reported that the dealer had refused to sell her drugs and called her a "snitch," When interviewed later by the detective, the dealer had revealed the informant's name to him. The dealer also confirmed that he had snitched on other dealers for Muta and that Muta had revealed the identities of other informants. It's not clear what the exact charges against Muta are.

In LaGrange, Georgia, a Troup County Sheriff’s Office detention officer was arrested Tuesday after he got caught bringing drugs into the jail for money. Officer Steven Michael Crowder, 23, went down after allegations were made that he was bringing drugs in for inmates and being paid by a third party. An investigation ensued, and his arrest was the result. He faces four counts of violation of oath by a public officer, four counts of items prohibited for possession by inmates, and one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine

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.

This Week's Corrupt Cop Stories

A South Carolina deputy gets in trouble for his relationship choices, a former small-town Pennsylvania police chief's heroin habit gets him in trouble, and more.

In Walterboro, South Carolina, a former Colleton County sheriff's deputy has resigned after an internal investigation found that he had been in a sexual relationship with "a known drug dealer/user" for the past year. Former Deputy William Janecki, who supervised the department's narcotics team, allegedly rented motel rooms for her and would overlook drugs in her possession during traffic stops with other deputies, as well as letting her know when warrants for her arrest were filed. Janecki has not yet been charged with anything, but the internal investigation has now been turned over to the State Law Enforcement Division, which will determine if any criminal charges are to be filed.

In Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, the former Elizabeth Borough police chief was indicted on federal charges last Wednesday for stealing heroin from the evidence locker. Former Chief Timothy Butler stole heroin evidence and was using it himself for nearly a year-and-a-half. He had already pleaded guilty to state charges for the same offense back in 2019 and skated with 45 months of probation. The feds have now charged him with one count of theft of government property. He was a member of a federal drug task force at the time and the drugs he stole were considered federal seized property.

In Tallahassee, Florida, a former Gadsden County sheriff's deputy was sentenced Tuesday to 10 months in federal prison for lying to a federal official about aiding a drug trafficker in 2018 and 2019 after he plea-bargained down from six charges, including unlawful use of a communication device or facilitate possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance; and intentionally attempting to possess a controlled substance, in this case cocaine. Joseph Barnes, 54, was also linked to a dog-fighting ring but was never charged for that. He went down after an investigation by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, which was told that Barnes would help "large-scale" traffickers by, for example, removing covertly installed tracking devices from their vehicles. An informant then asked Barnes to remove any tracking devices from his vehicle, which he did with FBI agents watching. He also provided expertise on how to defeat drug dogs. When he was questioned by the FBI, he lied about it, and that is what he is going to prison for.

Trump Calls for Death Penalty for Drug Dealers, Senate Legalization Bill Gets Hearing, More... (7/27/22)

The House approves a medical marijuana research bill, Switzerland and Zimbabwe open up to medicinal cannabis, and more.

The ex-president offered a dark and dreary vision of America as he called for the death penalty for drug dealers. (CC)
Senate Democrats' Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets Hearing. Led by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NY), one of the original cosponsors of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism held a hearing Tuesday on the bill and the broader topic of marijuana legalization. The bill would legalize marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act, expunge nonviolent marijuana convictions, and impose a federal tax on marijuana sales. Marijuana sales in states that have not legalized medical or recreational marijuana would remain a federal crime. States would still set their own marijuana policies. Sen. Booker said marijuana prohibition had "miserably failed," creating a "festering injustice" of racially disproportionate marijuana law enforcement. But Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) opposed the bill, bizarrely arguing that legalization would benefit "gangs and cartels." No vote was taken, and the bill's future remains uncertain.

Medical Marijuana

House Approves Bipartisan Medical Marijuana Research Bill. The House on Tuesday approved HR 8454, the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act. The bill sponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Andy Harris (R-MD) passed on a vote of 325-95, exceeding the two-thirds supermajority required for a vote that takes place under a procedure known as suspension of the rules. Under suspension of the rules, no amendments are allowed and debate is limited. The bill passed with unanimous Democratic support, but Republicans were split over it. "This bill makes it easier to do the necessary, rigorous medical research -- just like is done for any other drug that has a claim of efficacy in this country," Harris, who opposes legalization but favors expanded studies, said on the floor. "The American public deserves to know what medical marijuana is useful for because, for anyone with those conditions where it is found to be useful, it could be a godsend -- but for other conditions where the claims won't be found to be valid with rigorous research, it would be found to be ineffective."

Drug Policy

Trump Calls for Death Penalty for Drug Dealers. Former President Donald Trump called Tuesday for the death penalty for drug dealers during a speech that painted a dark portrait of contemporary America. "The penalties should be very, very severe. If you look at countries throughout the world, the ones that don't have a drug problem are ones that institute a very quick trial death penalty sentence for drug 'dealers," Trump said at the America First Policy Institute. "It sounds horrible, doesn't it? But you know what? That's the ones that don't have any problem. It doesnt take 15 years in court. It goes quickly, and you absolutely -- you execute a drug dealer, and you'll save 500 lives," Trump continued. "It's terrible to say, but you take a look at every country in this world that doesn't have a problem with drugs, they have a very strong death penalty for people that sell drugs," he said.

The former president, who is now under investigation for various crimes related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, unironically called for a broad and harsh crackdown on crime, including police cars parked on every corner, giving police greater qualified immunity, "We're living in such a different country for one primary reason: There is no longer respect for the law, and there certainly is no order. Our country is now a cesspool of crime," Trump said, calling for efforts to defeat violence and to "be tough and be nasty and be mean if we have to."

International

Switzerland Fully Legalizes Medical Cannabis and Allows Export. Beginning August 1, Swiss patients will be able to legally obtain medical marijuana with a medical prescription. Until now, patients were forced to seek individual permission from the Federal Office of Public Health. This comes after the Federal Council (the executive branch) amending the Swiss Narcotics Act approved by parliament in March 2021. Although cannabis for medical purposes will be legal next week, the law only allows products containing less than 1% THC, the limit set for the country's hemp industry. The new law also will allow for exports.

Zimbabwe Allows Cannabis Use in Medicines for First Time. The country's Medicines Control Authority has invited licenses cannabis and hemp producers, as well as importers, exporters, manufacturers, and retail pharmacists to apply for licenses to sell hemp-based products for use as medicines. "Unlicensed sellers of cannabis will be prosecuted for selling unapproved" medicines, the authority added. Would-be licensees must provide product samples and allow official inspections. The move is largely driven by the country's search for ways to boost income in its agricultural sector. The Treasury Department estimates the crop has the potential to reach $1.25 billion a year.

Senate Democrats File Marijuana Legalization Bill, Bipartisan Psychedelics for Terminally Ill Bill Filed, More... (7/21/22)

Singapore is set to hang a drug offender today, Sensators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) filed a bill to allow the terminally ill to use certain psychedelics, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Senate Leadership Introduces Legislation to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), along with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), today introduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA). The legislation repeals the federal criminal prohibition of marijuana, provides deference to states' cannabis policies, and establishes mechanisms to help repair the harms associated with the racially and economically disparate enforcement of prohibition. The CAOA removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act schedule entirely, ending the threat of federal prosecution for possession and licensed commercial activity, and allows states to implement their own cannabis policies free of federal interference. It also eliminates many problems facing regulated state cannabis markets, including lack of access to financial services, the inability to deduct standard business expenses when filing federal taxes, and the lack of uniform national regulatory standards and guidelines. The legislation also directs funding to reinvest in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition and helps improve diversity and inclusion in regulated cannabis markets. The bill's prospects in the evenly-divided Senate are unclear, at best.

Psychedelics

Senators Cory Booker, Rand Paul Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Amend the Right to Try Act to Assist Terminally Ill Patients. US Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced legislation Thursday to clarify that the Right to Try Act should allow terminally ill patients to have access to Schedule I drugs for which a Phase 1 clinical trial has been completed. Specifically, the Right to Try Clarification Act would remove any obstacle presented by the Controlled Substances Act with respect to Schedule I substances when they are used by doctors and patients in accordance with the federal Right to Try law. Companion legislation will be introduced in the House by Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Nancy Mace (R-SC).

The federal Right to Try law permits patients who have been diagnosed with life-threatening diseases or conditions, and who have exhausted all approved treatment options, access to certain treatments that have not yet received final FDA approval. In general, a drug is eligible for Right to Try use after a Phase 1 clinical trial has been completed for that drug but prior to the drug being approved or licensed by the FDA for any use. In other words, in limited conditions involving life threatening illness and for drugs that have been proven to be safe, the federal Right to Try law removes the FDA out of doctor-patient decisions and reverts regulation back to the states. Under the terms of the federal Right to Try law, states remain free to permit or prohibit Right to Try use under their own laws.

International

Singapore Set to Hang Drug Offender Today. The city-state is set to hang 64-year-old Singaporean citizen Nazeri Lajim for drug trafficking today. This would be the fifth execution since March after a long pause in hangings during the coronavirus pandemic. He was handed the death sentence in 2017, some five years after being arrested during an anti-narcotics operation. Nazeri was found with two bundles of what was analyzed to be 35.41 grams of heroin, exceeding the 15 gram legal threshold for the imposition of the death penalty.

The country is increasingly out of step with its neighbors on drug policy. Thailand legalized most forms of marijuana last month, and Indonesia and Malaysia are discussing medical marijuana. The government defended its hardline approach: "It really is incumbent upon us to present the choices in very vivid terms and persuade our people, including young people, that we have to make the right choices for them and for society," said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam.

Sudan Defense Lawyers Charge Political Detainees Forced to Undergo Drug Tests. The legal group Sudan's Emergency Lawyers, which defends people seeking to protest against rule by the military-dominated government, is charging that people being arrested at protests are now being subjected to unlawful drug tests. Detainees including at least 15 minors and six women were released after being beaten, assaulted and subjected to drug tests, the group said.

The lawyers said "what is really disturbing is that these people are now subjected to a drugs test," which they stressed "is completely contrary to the law". The lawyers say that those detained were not in possession of drugs and were not found in any suspicious situation that necessitates this procedure or would give authorities common cause. They pointed to the fact that any referral for examination must be made by the prosecution. "This procedure is purely criminal, it violates the rights of the detained, and it is against the principle of assumption of the accused's innocence, and completely contrary to the law. It degrades dignity and has a profound psychological impact," the lawyers added.

Rumors have been circulating that young protesters are using drugs, meth in particular, because they don't seem to show hunger or fatigue, but there has been no evidence to back up the rumors.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Michigan detective goes to prison for peddling fentanyl, a Tennessee deputy is in trouble over a tricky scheme to get his hands on a vehicle seized in a drug bust, and more. Let's get to it:

In Angola, Louisiana, an Angola state prison guard was arrested last Wednesday after she got caught sneaking meth into the prison inside a bag of potato chips. Now ex-Corrections Officer Alissa Plessy, 53, went down in a random search as she reported to work and was found to be carrying nearly 17 ounces of the drug, She is charged with possession with intent to distribute Schedule II narcotics and introduction of contraband into a penal institution.

In Baltimore, a Baltimore police officer was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly selling ghost guns and drugs to a motorcycle gang. Officer Steven Umberto Angelini, a 16-year veteran of the force, began selling and trading drugs with the president of the Maryland Infamous Ryders Motorcycle Club after a drug supplier they both knew was murdered. In January, he provided 90 oxycodone pills in exchange for $100 and an eighth-ounce of cocaine. He also offered the biker leader information on the dealer's murder and on buying more drugs. In April, Angelini made another deal, this time trading a ghost gun he said he built for cash and cocaine. The exact charges he faces were not specified.

In Covington, Tennessee, a former Tipton County sheriff's deputy was indicted last Wednesday for using his position as an evidence custodian to post a car that had been seized in a drug investigation for sale on a state web site in the middle of the night and then having a friend of his buy the vehicle for $500 34 seconds later using a "Buy Now" option. The vehicle was later sold on the site for $2,853.83 in October 2021. Former Deputy Daniel Jacobs was charged with official misconduct, attempted theft of property over $2,500 and computer crimes over $2,500.

In Highland Park, Michigan, a former Highland Park Police detective was sentenced Tuesday to two years in federal prison for peddling fentanyl. Tiffany Lipkovitch, 47, an 11-year detective, was caught arranging deliveries of samples of her wares on numerous recorded phone calls and in recorded meetings. She was convicted of conspiracy to distribute fentanyl.

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.

AZ Churches Sue Feds Over Ayahuasca Seizures, Schumer's Legalization Bill Coming Within Days, More... (7/20/22)

Indonesia's Constitutional Court rejects medical marijuana but calls for "immediate" study, DC Mayor signs bill providing workplace protections for marijuana users, more.

Weed will be on the Senate's mind next week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Hearing on Marijuana as Filing of Legalization Bill Looms. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism has scheduled a hearing for next Tuesday on "Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms." The hearing, led by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a strong proponent of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's pending legalization bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, comes amid word that the bill will drop any day now. Schumer has blocked incremental marijuana reforms, such as the SAFE Banking Act, saying he wants a full-blown legalization bill.

Kentucky Democrats Announce Plan for Legalization Bill. Frustrated by the failure of the Republican-controlled state legislature to act even on medical marijuana, state Democrats announced Thursday they will be filing legislation to legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational use. They said they would fill "LETT's Grow" bills in both house. LETT is short for Legalizing sales, Expunging crimes, Treating medical needs, and Taxing sales. "Our legislation is the comprehensive plan that Kentuckians deserve, and it builds on what's worked in other states while avoiding their mistakes," said Rep. Roberts of Newport. "This would be a boon for our economy and farmers alike, plus give state and local governments a major new source of revenue."

DC Mayor Signs Bill Providing Workplace Protections for Marijuana Users, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has signed into law a bill that most employers from firing or refusing to hire workers because they use marijuana. The bill would "prohibit employers from firing, failing to hire, or taking other personnel actions against an individual for use of cannabis, participating in the medical cannabis program, or failure to pass an employer-required or requested cannabis drug test, unless the position is designated safety sensitive or for other enumerated reasons." There are exceptions for police, safety-sensitive construction workers, people whose jobs require a commercial drivers' license, and people who work with children or medical patients. The new law must still be approved by Congress before it can go into effect.

Psychedelics

Arizona Churches Sue Over Seizure of Sacramental Ayahuasca. Two Arizona churches, the Arizona Yagé Assembly and the Church of the Eagle and the Condor, have filed suit in federal court over the seizure of ayahuasca, a key element in their religious practice, by federal agencies. In separate lawsuits, the two churches charge that the federal government has violated the constitutional right to the free exercise of religion, citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That law bars the government from burdening the exercise of religion unless there is a compelling government interest and only if that action if the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.

The Church of the Eagle and the Condor says that US Customs and Border Protection has been seizing and destroying its ayahuasca since 2020. The churches say drinking ayahuasca is "an essential mode of worship" for members, but federal agencies say any possession of ayahuasca, a Schedule I substance, violates the Controlled Substances Act. "The church and its members are aware that their sacrament is proscribed by law, but they have partaken in their sacrament both before and after the United States made a credible threat of enforcement of the CSA against them," the suit says. "Plaintiffs are violating and intend to continue to violate applicable law, rather than compromise or terminate their sincerely held religious beliefs and practices."

International

Indonesia High Court Rejects Medical Marijuana But Calls for Immediate Study. The Constitutional Court on Wednesday nixed a judicial review of the country's drug law that could have opened the door for medical marijuana. Three mothers of children with cerebral palsy backed by civil society groups had sought the review, arguing that marijuana could be used medicinally to treat medical conditions. The court held there was insufficient research to rule in favor of the plaintiffs, but called on the government to "immediately" conduct research on the medicinal use of the herb… The results of which can be used to determine policies, including in this case the possibility of changing the law," said judge Suhartoyo.

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