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Andean Drug War

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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. 

State Banking Regulators Call for Passage of SAFE Banking Act, Colombia Could Elect a Drug War Critic as President, More... (5/27/22)

A congressman calls on the Transportation Department to adjust its drug testing policies for truck drivers to account for broad marijuana legalization, Michigan enacts a new asset forfeiture law for airports, and more.

Leftist Colombian presidential candidate Gustavo Petro is a harsh critic of the US drug war in Colombia. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

State Financial Regulators Urge Congress to Pass Marijuana Banking Protections as Part of Manufacturing Bill. The Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS), which represents state financial regulators from across the country, sent a letter Wednesday to House and Senate leaders urging them to include marijuana banking reform in the COMPETES Act, a large-scale manufacturing bill. "By granting a safe harbor for financial institutions, Congress can bring regulatory clarity to the financial services industry, address public safety concerns and ensure access to financial services for state-compliant marijuana and marijuana-related businesses," CSBS Acting President James Cooper said.

The group is calling on congressional negotiators to include the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking act in the version of the bill that will go to President Biden. The House included it in its version of the bill, but the Senate removed the language. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) has consistently blocked passage of the SAFE Banking Act, arguing that outright federal legalization is the path to go down, but there is little sign that there is sufficient support in the Senate for a legalization bill to pass.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Bill to Let Airport Authorities Seize Suspected Drug Cash Signed into Law. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has signed into law a pair of Republican-sponsored bills, House Bill 4631and House Bill 4632, that will allow airport authorities to seize suspected drug cash or property without first obtaining a conviction or guilty plea if the cash or property exceeds $20,000. The seizure would still have to be upheld in a civil judgement. "Drug trafficking will not be tolerated in Michigan," said bill sponsor Rep. Graham Filler (R-Clinton County). "The men and women who keep our airports secure need to have the proper authority to keep drugs and drug money out of our state -- and this reform gives them the tools they need to get the job done."

Drug Testing

Lawmaker Calls on Transportation Department to Amend "Outdated" Marijuana Testing Requirements. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg calling on the department to change its policies that punish commercial truck drivers for using marijuana while off the job. "To date, 48 states have enacted laws that, to varying degrees, relax their prohibitions against the use of marijuana," wrote Blumenauer. "Nevertheless, your department's zero-tolerance policy sweeps up drivers who were unimpaired, drivers who have not used cannabis for weeks or even months, and drivers who have used federally-legal CBD oils. Blanket disqualifications are unjust, unfair, and cause widespread economic and social damage. Thousands of driving positions are unfilled, compounding our supply chain woes. Penalizing safe drivers who comply with state cannabis laws harms both the drivers and the supply chains they support." Amidst supply chain challenges and a driver shortage, more than 36,000 truckers have had their licenses suspended for testing positive for marijuana metabolites in recent months.

International

Leftist Critic of US Drug War Poised to Win Colombian Presidency. Former leftist guerilla and Bogota mayor and current Senator Gustavo Petro is poised to win the first round of Colombia's presidential elections (although he may be forced into a run-off if he comes in with less than 50 percent of the vote). Petro is a staunch critic of the US's drug war in Colombia, frequently noting that despite spending billions on military and law enforcement and decades of US pressure to reduce drug production, the country remains a top supplier of cocaine and is awash in prohibition-related violence. He has also recently questioned the extradition last month of the head of the Gulf Clan Cartel, Dairo Antonio Usuga and is more broadly critical of extradition.

"Extradition: it merits a discussion -- a review of the figures -- to see if what’s been done for 40 years has worked or not; if a million dead Latin Americans -- the majority Colombians and Mexicans -- has been worth it," he said in an interview last month. Despite all the violence and security spending, Colombian cocaine production has tripled in the past decade, according to US government data.

MO Legalization Init Hands in Double Needed Signatures, Colombia Drug Lord Extradition Sparks Trouble, More... (5/9/22)

Austin voters say adios to no-knock warrants, Colombia's most powerful cartel gets unruly after its leader's extradition to the US, and more.

Colombian drug lord "Otoniel" upon his arrest last October. (Colombian National Police)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Activists Turn in Double the Signatures Needed for Marijuana Legalization Initiative. Activists with Legal Missouri 2022, the folks behind a marijuana legalization constitutional amendment, announced Sunday that they had turned in more than 385,000 raw voter signatures in a bid to get the measure on the November ballot. That is more than twice the 171,592 valid voter signatures necessary to qualify, meaning that the measure has almost certainly qualified for the ballot. Initiative campaigns typically try to get a cushion of 20-30 percent more signatures that required to account for rejected signatures, but Legal Missouri has a cushion of more than 100 percent.

Drug Policy

Austin, Texas, Voters Overwhelmingly Approve Marijuana Decriminalization, Ban on No-Knock Warrants. Austin residents voted overwhelmingly in support of a municipal ballot measure that decriminalizes marijuana possession and bans police from using no-knock warrants. Some 85 percent of voters said "yes" to the measure. Now, the city council must codify the results into law, but the council already passed a 2020 resolution to end misdemeanor marijuana arrests, which will now become law. Similarly, officials said police in Austin execute just a handful of no-knock raids each year, but now that number will go to zero.

International

Head of Colombia's Gulf Clan Cartel Extradited to US. Dairo Antonio Úsuga, known as Otoniel, alleged head of the Gulf Clan cartel, was extradited to the United States last week to face drug smuggling conspiracy charges. Otoniel had been Colombia's most wanted man for the past decade before being captured in his jungle hideout last October. The Gulf Clan emerged out of rightist paramilitaries who worked with the Colombian government in the long-running civil war with the leftist FARC. Many in Colombia want him to supply information about atrocities committed by paramilitaries during the conflict, which officially ended with a peace treaty between the FARC and the government in 2016. He already faced Colombian charges of murder, illegal recruitment, kidnapping for ransom, sexual abuse of minors, terrorism, and illegal possession of weapons, as well as drug trafficking.

Colombia's Gulf Clan Cartel Stages "Armed Strike" After Leader's Extradition to US. In response to the extradition of their leader, Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, to the US to face drug trafficking charges, the Gulf Cartel launched a four-day "armed strike" beginning last Thursday. They blocked roads and set fire to dozens of vehicles. The Interior Ministry said "more than a hundred vehicles (...) were hit" in the first two days of the action.

Colombian Military Deploys More Troops to Combat Gulf Clan Cartel. The Colombian military is beefing up its already extensive presence in the country's north in response to an "armed strike" called by the Gulf Clan cartel in response to the extradition of its leader Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, to the US to face drug trafficking charges. There were already about 50,000 government troops in the region, but now another 2,000 have been deployed. They would be tasked, among other things, with securing roads so that hard-hit commerce can be restored, he said. The Gulf Clan cartel, Colombia's biggest, is estimated to account for between 30 and 60 percent of all cocaine exported from Colombia.

DE House Passes Legal Pot Bill, US Reps Press DOJ on Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses, More... (5/6/22)

A South Carolina medical marijuana falls to opponents' House maneuvers, Venezuela is joining the ranks of coca and cocaine producers, and more.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) is calling on the Justice Department to explain civil asset forfeiture abuses. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware House Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The House on Thursday voted to approve a measure that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults, House Bill 371. The bill would not set up a system of taxed and regulated sales but does allow for the unremunerated transfer of up to an ounce from one adult to another. The bill now heads to the Senate, which, like the House, is controlled by Democrats. But it faces a potential veto by Gov. John Carney (D), who has expressed doubts about marijuana legalization.

Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Killed in House. A measure to legalize medical marijuana in the state, the Compassionate Use Act (Senate Bill 150) was killed on the House floor Wednesday after a debate over legislative process but without any discussion of the merits of the bill. The bill had already passed the Senate but faced long odds in the House, where opponents of reform filed more than a thousand amendments. One opponent, Rep. John McCravy (R), then created a constitutional challenge for the bill, claiming that it should have originated in the House because it involves a tax on medical marijuana. Under the state constitution, bills involving taxation must originate in the House. House Speaker Pro Tem Thomas Pope (R) then ruled to sustain McCravy's point of order and against an appeal from Rep. Todd Rutherford (D), who said he planned to later scrap the tax language via an amendment, effectively killing the bill. Sponsors said they would keep trying, though.

Asset Forfeiture

House Members Request Justice Department Briefing on Abuses of Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Program. Rep. Jamie Raskin and Rep. Nancy Mace, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting information about the Department of Justice's (DOJ) efforts to address longstanding abuses of its Equitable Sharing Program, which allows state and local governments to partner with DOJ by transferring property, money, or assets that have been seized by law enforcement to the federal government for forfeiture which then shares up to 80% of the proceeds with local and state law enforcement agencies, regardless of state law.

The letter came after a December hearing that examined the need to reform federal civil asset forfeiture programs, including equitable sharing, to prevent state, local, and federal law enforcement from abusing the civil rights and civil liberties of Americans. Expert witnesses testified that state and local law enforcement agencies use DOJ's Equitable Sharing Program to circumvent state laws aimed at curtailing civil asset forfeiture abuse. Between 2000 and 2019, DOJ paid at least $8.8 billion from its Asset Forfeiture Fund (AFF) to state and local agencies.

"We are concerned that the Equitable Sharing Program creates a loophole allowing state and local law enforcement to seize assets from individuals without bringing criminal charges or a conviction, even in states that prohibit civil asset forfeiture," the Members wrote. "In addition, we are concerned that DOJ does not conduct adequate oversight of law enforcement agencies participating in the Equitable Sharing Program."

International

Venezuela Becoming a Coca, Cocaine Producer. InsightCrime, a website that covers Latin American drug trafficking, is reporting that Venezuela is becoming a coca producing and cocaine manufacturing country. Previously, it had served only as a transshipment point for cocaine produced in the big three coca-growing countries: Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. But now, "InsightCrime has uncovered evidence of the presence of significant quantities of coca in at least three municipalities in Zulia, and two more to the south in the state of Apure, each time verified and corroborated by multiple reliable sources," the web site reported. "In addition, sources in the field, international agencies, and the Venezuelan government's own reports show that the crystalizing laboratories used to process coca paste into cocaine hydrochloride have been proliferating in the same areas."

All of this activity is taking place in western part of the country, where Colombian guerilla groups and drug traffickers dominate and appear to be operating openly. "So far, cocaine production in Venezuela is nascent, representing just a drop in an ocean of coca compared to the historic levels seen in Colombia in recent years," InsightCrime noted. "But the country's border region, poor, isolated, abandoned by the state and dominated by armed groups, represents a perfect petri dish for it to spread. And in a country trapped in an economic crisis, ruled by a corrupt regime, and ravaged by criminality, that is a dangerous proposition."

Oklahoma MedMJ Moratorium Bill Nears Passage, Ecuador State of Emergency Over Drug Trafficking Violence, More... (5/2/22)

The Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago is moving toward legal, regulated marijuana markets; an Oklahoma bill for an open-ended moratorium on new medical marijuana business licenses nears passage, and more.

Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso. The center-right leader has imposed a state of emergency over drug violence. (unctad)
Medical Marijuana

Last Chance to Kill Oklahoma Bill to Put Moratorium on New Medical Marijuana Businesses. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is warning that time is running out to oppose a pending bill, House Bill 3208, that would impose a moratorium on processing and issuing new medical marijuana business licenses. The measure has already passed in both the House and Senate, but was amended in the Senate, and is now back before the House for a final vote. Voters approved medical marijuana in 2018, and the state then became the fastest in the country to implement new medical marijuana laws, but lawmakers have been concerned about the explosion of medical marijuana cultivation and businesses since then. The bill would allow the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority to extend the moratorium indefinitely, for as long as it "deems necessary."

International

Ecuador President Declares State of Emergency over Prohibition-Related Violence in Three Provinces. President Guillermo Lasso announced last Friday that he was decreeing a state of emergency for the next two months in three provinces that have been wracked by violence related to the black market drug trade. "I have declared a state of exception in the (coastal) provinces of Guayas, Manabi, and Esmeraldas, effective from midnight tonight," he said then. Lasso also ordered 4,000 police and 5,000 soldiers deployed to the three provinces and declared an overnight curfew for some areas, such as the town of Duran, near the port of Guayaquil. Increased drug trafficking in the country has left 1,255 dead since the start of the year and has also been linked to a series of prison massacres among rival gangs that have left more than 350 dead. The country is not a significant cocaine producer but serves as a transit hub for its illicit transshipment.

Trinidad and Tobago House Approves Bill to Regulate Legal Marijuana Commerce. The House last Friday gave unanimous approval to a bill to regulate the legal marijuana industry, the Cannabis Control Bill of 2020. The bill will "provide for the regulatory control of the handling of cannabis for certain purposes, the establishment of the Trinidad and Tobago Cannabis Licensing Authority and connected matters." Minister of Local Government and Rural Affairs Faris Al-Rawi said that while the earlier relaxation of the country's marijuana laws helped greatly to unclog the country's criminal justice system, this bill would people the chance to make some "serious money." Trinidad and Tobago has a parliamentary system of government, which means this bill has the support of the government. It must still pass the Senate, though.

Peru Announces Plan to Buy Up Entire Illegal Coca Crop, NH Senate Kills Legal Pot Bills Again, More... (4/29/22)

The White House announces more money for drug law enforcement, GOP senators file a bill to reduce but not eliminate the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more.

British Virgin Islands Premier Andrew Fahie -- busted on drug charges in Florida (bvi.gov.vg)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Senate Again Rejects Marijuana Legalization Bills. The Senate on Thursday rejected two different marijuana legalization bills. House Bill 1598 would have created a state-run monopoly for retail marijuana sales, while House Bill 629 would have legalized personal possession and home cultivation of the plant. In recent years, the House has repeatedly passed marijuana legalization bills, only to see them die in the Senate. On reason is paternalistic politicians like Sen. Bob Guida (R-Warren), who said he was "proud" of defeating legalization. "It may be what people want, but it's not what we as a Senate should enable them to do because it will cause harm," he said.

Law Enforcement

White House Announces $275 Million for Law Enforcement in HIDTAs. The White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) announced Thursday that it has allocated $275 million for law enforcement in designate High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs) to tackle black market opioid trafficking. ONDCP said the funds would go to 33 regional HIDTAs to "reduce violence associated with drug trafficking, improve interdiction efforts through enhanced data sharing and targeting, and dismantle illicit finance operations." Some of the money will also support public health and safety partnerships, like the Overdose Response Strategy, which works with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce overdose. But the bulks of the money is going to prohibitionist law enforcement.

Sentencing

GOP Senators File Bill to Reduce but Not Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, Stiffen Some Penalties. US Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mike Lee (R-UT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Roger Wicker (R-MS) to introduce the SMART Cocaine Sentencing Act, which would reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenders tried in federal courts. The bill would reduce the current crack-to-powder cocaine sentencing disparity from 18:1 to 2.5:1. It would reduce the volume required to trigger five-year mandatory minimum sentences for powder cocaine from 500 grams to 400 grams, and from 5 kilograms to 4 kilograms for 10-year mandatory minimum sentences. For crack cocaine, the volume triggering a five-year mandatory sentence would be increased from 28 grams to 160 grams; the volume for the 10-year mandatory sentence would be lifted from 280 grams to 1,600 grams.

International

British Virgin Islands Leader Busted in Florida Drug Sting Operation. The elected head of government of the British Virgin Island, Premier Andrew Fahie, was arrested in a drug sting operation in Florida Thursday. Fahie went down after an undercover informant posing as a member of the Sinaloa Cartel sought his help in moving cocaine through the territory and on to the United States and Fahie agreed to help in return for $500,000 paid up front and accepted $20,000 in cash as good faith money. The Caribbean island nation's port director and her son were also charged. Fahie and the other two all face charges of conspiracy to import at least five kilograms of a cocaine mixture and conspiracy to launder money.

Mexico Sends 200 More Soldiers to Tijuana to Fight Cartel Violence. Mexico has deployed an additional 200 National Guard troops to join the 3,500 already deployed in the border city of Tijuana, which has been ravaged by prohibition-related violence in recent weeks. "The conflict over control of production, distribution and sales of drugs led by organized delinquents within the state of Baja California has generated a large number of homicides as a result of these activities,"said General Francisco Javier Hernández Almanza, the head of the Mexico's National Guard in Baja California. The soldiers will man vehicle checkpoints across the city. But the entry of Mexican soldiers into areas of cartel violence has often led to more -- not less -- violence.

Peru Announces Plans to Buy Up Entire Illicit Coca Crop. The government has announced a plan to buy up the nation's entire supply of illegal coca leaf as part of its battle against drug trafficking. The Andean nation is one of the world's three major cocaine producers, along with Bolivia and Colombia. The country has a legal coca market and produced an estimated 160,000 tons of coca leaf last year, but 95 percent of that was grown illegally and was destined for illegal markets, where it was converted into about 400 tons of cocaine. The country's coca monopoly, ENACO, has 95,000 registered licit coca growers, but there are an estimated 400,000 illicit coca growers that the government wants to bring into the fold. "It is imperative, for at least a year, to buy coca leaf from existing registered producers and from those that will make up the newly created register," Cabinet Chief Anibal Torres said on Wednesday when presenting the initiative. The plan would also end the military occupation of the VRAEM (Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers), the country's main coca production area, which has had a military presence since 2006.

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