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Book Review: How to Regulate Stimulants

How to Regulate Stimulants: A Practical Guide by Steve Rolles, Harvey Slade, and James Nicholls (2020, Transform Drug Policy Foundation, 304 pp., $20 PB)

Marijuana is now legal, taxed and regulated in 15 states, with most of the Northeast likely to join them next year. The movement for psychedelic liberation is flexing its muscles. Oregon just voted to decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of all drugs. Brick by brick the wall of drug prohibition is crumbling in the United States.

And now, the good folks at Britain's Transform Drug Policy Foundation are out with a how-to guide for turning that wall into nothing more than a pile of bricks. When it comes to attacking prohibition, marijuana and psychedelics are the low-hanging fruit -- it's easier for members of the public to consider that the harms attributed to their potential abuse or misuse may be far outweighed by the harms of prohibiting them -- but with stimulants such as meth, Ecstasy, and cocaine, the case for prohibition is more popular because the potential harms of their abuse or misuse are much greater.

Still, Steve Rolles and his coauthors make a strong, thoughtful case for dealing with these drugs as we do other non-banned psychoactive substances: Regulating and offering them to consumers with restrictions based on the degree of risk involved. Caffeine is a stimulant, but one with low risk levels for users and society. It is subject only to the regulations of normal commerce -- quality control, informational packaging, and the like.

Coca leaf, coca tea, and oral coca products (lozenges, hard candies, pouches) have a similar risk profile to caffeine -- that is, not much. But both international and US law fail to differentiate between such products with low levels of the cocaine alkaloid and cocaine itself. A regulatory regime based on reason and science would treat coca tea like coffee, not cocaine. But that doesn't mean cocaine would be prohibited.

Indeed, Rolles et al. explicitly differentiate between different forms of stimulants to create a three-tiered regulatory system based not only on science, public health, human rights, but also recognizing the need to prevent corporate takeover and promote social equity. The first tier is the tier of coca tea and coffee.

The second tier, that of medium risk drugs in their typology, produces what they call their "standard model" for dealing with stimulants. Included here are MDMA pills, amphetamine pills (or meth pills -- Desoxyn, anyone?), and cocaine powder. For this tier, they recommend pharmacy-style retail sales at state-owned shops where specially trained druggists dispense not only the dope but also targeted harm reduction information.

And they recommend rationing of these substances, either by purchase amount limits or by means of licensing requirements. The idea is to limit harm by restricting access to these particularly binge-inducing drugs. Rationing is what we do with legal marijuana by restricting purchases, typical to one ounce per day. We don't do that with alcohol, however; you can walk in and buy multiple kegs of beer or cases of hard liquor and no one bats an eye.

Purchase limits -- say one gram of 70% pure powder cocaine per month -- would probably work for most cocaine consumers, who use it recreationally and infrequently. But it wouldn't work for the party host who wants to supply his guests, and more importantly, it wouldn't suffice for the needs of serious drug users, who make up a huge percentage of the sales of any drug.

If the object is to take drug consumers out of the illicit market, rationing is going to have to be flexible enough to address their needs and demands. The authors suggest a tiered system that would allow larger purchases contingent on periodic brief discussions of risks and harm reduction with trained pharmacy vendors.

When it comes to the hardest forms of stimulants, such as injectable meth or cocaine or smokable meth or crack, the model shifts from regulatory retail to harm reduction. The authors advocates measures such as supervised consumption sites and harm reduction kits for crack users. They envision no retail sales of drugs in such forms, but also no criminalization of their users. That might leave users to get their goodies in the black market (or get creative with less harmful forms of the drug, such as converting cocaine powder into crack at home), which could undercut one of the primary rationales for regulation: killing off the illicit market.

But instead of sticks, Rolles et al. offer carrots. Perhaps hardcore tweakers and cokeheads can be induced into using less harmful forms of their drugs of choice, switching from shooting meth to eating oral amphetamines or being offered less-potent powder cocaine formulations with a price incentive. Not discussed is whether users of tier three substances would have some way of obtaining a regulated supply of them through a medical or other non-sales framework.

Regulating stimulant drugs is tricky, with all sorts of different considerations to undertake. But we have a freedom interest, a social justice interest, and a public health interest in moving away from coercive drug prohibition. The Transform Drug Policy Foundation shows us some of the possible paths and is acutely aware of the intricacies of the task. This is very useful stuff. We should all probably send copies of this book to our state and federal elected officials, but not wait for them before starting down the path ourselves.

State, Local Regulators Call on Congress to Move on MORE Act, Rwanda to Allow MedMJ Exports, More... (10/23/20)

Rwanda okays medical marijuana exports, state and local marijuana regulators want Congress to move on marijuana legalization, and more.

Colombian officals say Mexican drug cartels are the biggest customers for Colombia's cocaine. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

State and Municipal Cannabis Regulators Call on Congress to Prioritize Federal Marijuana Reform. Joined by the Drug Policy Alliance, state and municipal cannabis regulators from across the country are calling on Congress to prioritize federal marijuana reform by passing the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment & Expungement (MORE) Act (H.R. 3884) when it comes up for a vote on the House floor following the November 2020 election. In a letter to Congress, regulators said "by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, respecting state’s policies regarding legalization, affording legitimate cannabis businesses access to resources that allow them to be compliant and tax-paying businesses, developing and funding programs aimed at equitable participation in the cannabis industry and acknowledging and addressing the war on drugs and its impacts, the MORE Act would ensure that the federal government is a partner to state and municipal regulators both in our collective responsibility to serve our community through the reform of negatively impactful cannabis policies and in our collective responsibility to recognize and correct injustices."

International

Colombian Official Says Mexican Cartels Top Buyers of Country's Cocaine."The Mexicans are the principal buyers of the supply of coca produced in Colombia," Rafael Guarin, presidential adviser for security said Wednesday. "Fundamentally, the Mexicans take charge of the buying, trafficking and sale in the United States." He named the Sinaloa, Jalisco New Generation, Zetas, and Beltran-Leyva cartels as the top buyers and traffickers of cocaine produced by criminal groups in Colombia, including current and former leftist rebels.

Rwandan Government Okays Medical Marijuana Exports. The Rwanda Development Board announced earlier this month that the government has approved the cultivation of medical marijuana for export as it seeks to target markets in the US and Europe. The country will soon begin taking applications for licenses from interested investors. The board made it clear that "this investment framework does not affect the legal status of cannabis consumption in Rwanda, which remains prohibited."

Purdue Pharma Pleads Guilty to Criminal Charges Over Oxycontin, Another NJ Pot Poll Looking Good, More... (10/21/20)

The Trump campaign demands a Mississippi medical marijuana initiative campaign cease and desist from saying he supports it, the Transform Drug Policy Foundation releases a book on how to regulate stimulants, and more.

Purdue Pharma will pay more than $8 billion in a criminal case around Oxycontin. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Another New Jersey Poll Has Marijuana Legalization Cruising Toward Victory. ABrach Eichler Cannabis Poll released Tuesday has support for the marijuana legalization initiative at 65%, with 29% opposed and 6% undecided. This is the fourth Brach Eichler poll to show support at around two-thirds, while a Fairleigh Dickinson poll released earlier this month had support at 61%. It looks like the Garden State will free the weed next month.

Medical Marijuana

Trump Campaign Demands Mississippi Activists Quit Saying He Supports Medical Marijuana Initiative. Although President Trump has repeatedly said he supports medical marijuana, his campaign has mailed a cease and desist letter to Mississippians for Compassionate Care after it used his name, image, or likeness in support of Initiative 65. "President Trump has never expressed support for Initiative 65, and his campaign demands that you immediately cease and desist all activities using the President’s name, image, or likeness in support of the legalization of medical marijuana in Mississippi,"the letter stated. The campaign had recently sent out mailers urging voters to "Join President Trump" in supporting medical marijuana in the state. The campaign responded thusly: "President Trump has clearly stated on multiple occasions that he supports medical marijuana. That is all that we’ve shared – the truth,"said Mississippians for Compassionate Care Communications Director Jamie Grantham.

Drug Treatment

Massachusetts Attorney General Sues Drug Treatment Center Chain for Medicare Fraud. The state attorney general's office filed suit last Friday against Total Wellness Centers LLC, CleanSlate Centers Inc., and CleanSlate Centers LLC (collectively "CleanSlate) for allegedly submitting millions of dollars in false claims to the state Medicaid program. The complaint alleges CleanSlate submitted millions of dollars in false claims for urine drug screens that were medically unnecessary and violated state and federal self-referral laws because the tests were done at their own lab. "This company’s business model was to illegally profit by cheating our state Medicaid program, which provides vital health care resources to some of our most vulnerable residents," Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement. "We will take legal action against this kind of misconduct in order to recover funds for our state and protect the integrity of MassHealth."

Opioids

Purdue Pharma Pleads Guilty to Criminal Charges for Opioid Sales. The Justice Department has announced that Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxycontin, has agreed to plead guilty to charges of defrauding federal health agencies and violating anti-kickback laws and will pay penalties of $8.3 billion, including $225 million coming from individual members of the Sackler family, which owned Purdue Pharma. The rollout and aggressive marketing of Oxycontin in the late 1990s helped set the stage for the country's opioid epidemic of the early 21st Century.

International

Bolivia's MAS Wins Presidential Election, Will Maintain Evo's Coca Policy. A year after long-time president Evo Morales was forced from office after disputed elections, his former economics minister, Luis Arce, cruised to an electoral victory, winning 52% of the vote in a multi-party election and avoiding the need for a runoff election. Arce said that while he has no problem with the United States, he will maintain Morales' coca policy, under which legal coca cultivation was allowed.

British Drug Reformers Call for the Government to Sell Cocaine and Ecstasy in Pharmacies. In a book just published, the Transform Drug Policy Foundation has created a "how to" for allowing legal sales of stimulant drugs such as cocaine, Ecstasy, and amphetamines. The group recommends selling the drugs in individual doses at state-run special pharmacies as an alternative to the "unwinnable war on drugs."The book is How to Regulate Stimulants: A Practical Guide. Look for a Chronicle review once my copy arrives.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.

NJ Police Chiefs Warn on Marijuana Legalization, European Drug Tends, More... (10/13/20)

Mississippi's Republican governor tries to undermine a medical marijuana initiative, the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction has a new report out, and more.

Cocaine en route to Europe seized by Spanish police.
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Police Chiefs Present Arguments Against Marijuana Legalization. In an open letter, the state Association of Chiefs of Police did not explicitly come out against the state's pending referendum on marijuana legalization, but instead presented several arguments designed to highlight its dangers. They wrote that marijuana is not "benign," warned of stoned drivers, claimed the black market is "stronger than ever" in legal states, and cited "unintended consequences" of legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Governor Signs Bill Allowing FDA-Approved Cannabis Medications as Legalization Vote Looms. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) last week signed into law a bill that allows residents to use marijuana-derived medications that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The move comes as the state prepares to vote on a medical marijuana initiative and a watered-down version of it forwarded by the legislature. Reeves said he is "against efforts to make marijuana mainstream."

International

European Drug Report Shows Advances in Trans-Atlantic Drug Trafficking. The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has released the European Drug Report 2020, which examines drug trafficking dynamics from 2018 to 2020. The big takeaways: Cocaine trafficking to Europe has boomed during the pandemic, greater quantities of higher quality cocaine are arriving, the cocaine market is expanding in Europe going back at least a decade, and European MDMA production keeps rising.

CDC Reports on Rising Cocaine Overdoses, Mexico Poppy Farmers Vow to Fight Eradication, More... (10/9/20)

South Dakota's marijuana legalization initiative picks up support from a leading state political figure, the CDC says cocaine overdose deaths nearly tripled between 2013 and 2018, and more.

Cocaine overdose deaths rose dramatically between 2013 and 2018, the CDC reports. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

California Eradicated More Than A Million Illegal Pot Plants This Year. The state's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting has eradicated 1.1 million plants at 455 different grow sites this year. The campaign also racked up 140 arrests and the seizure of 174 weapons. Southern California's Riverside County yielded some 293,000 plants -- the biggest haul -- while Northern California's Tulare, Trinity, Lake and Siskiyou counties rounded out the top five.

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle Supports South Dakota Marijuana Legalization. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D), who represented the state in the Congress for nearly three decades, has come out in support of the Amendment A marijuana legalization initiative. "I did not advocate for legal marijuana while I served in the Senate but, like many other Americans, my viewpoint has vastly evolved in recent years, and my passion for improving how our society delivers health care as well as pioneering social and political change has never been stronger," Daschle said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

Cocaine

Cocaine Overdose Deaths Rising Dramatically. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that cocaine overdose deaths have nearly tripled over five years, rising at an average rate of 27% per year from 2013 to 2018. "While much attention has been given to the increase in drug overdose deaths involving opioids, it's also important to recognize that deaths involving other drugs, such as cocaine, have also increased in recent years," said Dr. Holly Hedegaard, lead researcher and injury epidemiologist at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

International

Mexico Opium Farmers Vow to Stop Military from Burning Poppies. Saying authorities have failed to deliver educational, health, and road improvements, residents of 33 communities in the state of Guerrero have pledged they will not allow the military to destroy their poppy fields. They say that opium cultivation is their only source of income. Farmers have proposed blocking the Acapulco-Zihuatanejo highway and the one linking Chilpancingo and Iguala and warned that if anything happens to military aerial eradication helicopters or military personnel engaged in eradication it would be the fault of the federal government. "We are determined to prevent our poppy plantations from being destroyed whether it is by air or land," said a document agreed to by the villagers.

New Coalition Unveils Plan to Legalize Interstate Marijuana Commerce, Colombia Cocaine Regulation Bill, More... (9/21/20)

People with small-time marijuana possession convictions in New York state can now move to get them expunged, Secretary of State Pompeo promises more anti-drug aid for Colombia, and more.

Cocaine is driving US policy toward Colombia, and the illicit trade is sparking violence and calls for reform. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

New Marijuana Coalition Unveils Plan to Legalize Interstate Marijuana Commerce. A group of advocacy groups and marijuana businesses calling itself the Alliance for Sensible Markets has rolled out a plan to allow marijuana commerce between states that have legalized it even while federal prohibition remains. The alliance will urge governors of legal and hopefully soon-to-be legal states to create an interstate compact to establish a framework for cannabis to be transported and marketed across state lines. If at least two governors agree, the compact would then go to Congress for approval.

New York Courts Ready to Begin Expunging Marijuana Convictions. In line with a law passed last year, the state's court system is now ready to begin expunging low-level marijuana convictions for people previously charged and convicted of specific possession offenses. Under the process, individuals must fill out an application with the court where they were convicted. From there, the applications are then sent to the Division of Criminal Justice Services and applicable law enforcement agencies, who will destroy the already expunged records. For an application with instructions click here.

Foreign Policy

Secretary of State Pompeo Promises More Anti-Drug Aid for Colombia. During his tour of Latin America, US Secretary of Sate Mike Pompeo on Saturday pledged to Colombian President Ivan Duque continued assistance to help fight drug trafficking. The country is under strong pressure from the Trump administration to reduce the size of its coca crop. Pompeo also praised Duque for his stance against Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro, who the US does not recognize.

International

Colombia Legislature to take Up Coca, Cocaine Regulation Bill Next Month. A bill from a coalition of leftist legislators that would have the national government take control of the drug market by purchasing coca leaf from farmers and regulating cocaine sales will be debated next month. It faces long odds, but the bill's backers say it could reduce the waste of public funds, help protect the environment and led to a better public health approach to drug consumption. They also argue that it would lead to a reduction in violence, which persists despite the 2016 peace treaty with the FARC as other guerrilla groups, FARC dissidents, paramilitaries, drug traffickers, police and the military fight either to control or repress the trade.

Seven Killed in Latest Colombia Massacre. At least seven people died after they were gunned down at a cock fight in the municipality of Buenos Aires in Cauca province, where various armed groups are fighting over control of territory abandoned by the FARC after the 2016 peace deal. This is the ninth mass killing in Cauca this year and the 60th in the country. Cauca has been the scene of some of the worst violence in the fight over control of the coca and cocaine trade.

Book Review -- Crack: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed

Crack: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed by David Farber (2019, Cambridge University Press, 214 pp., $24.95 HB)

As we live through the year of the pandemic, with its disproportionate impact on poor and minority communities, it is striking how those differential impacts mirror what happened with crack cocaine in the 1980s. Crack was never pandemic nor even truly epidemic -- its users numbered in the hundreds of thousands and only a vanishingly tiny number of Americans ever tried it -- but like the coronavirus, it ravaged predominantly Black communities, as did the heavy-handed official response to it.

University of Kansas historian David Farber takes the reader back to the days of vial-filled streets, especially the mid-1980s, when the emergence of this smokable form of cocaine, available in cheap, single dose units (rocks) made a drug that was formerly the province of the wealthy and well-connected a mass market commodity. A gram of powder cocaine, after all, was going for $100, but you could pick up a rock of crack and get an instant high for $5.

The problem was that the $5 high was gone in a few minutes. A lot of people, Farber notes, used crack recreationally. They'd buy a pocketful of rocks, smoke 'em up, and call it a night. But for some people, the crack high proved so alluring, the urge to hit the pipe so irresistible, that they lost everything to the drug. Their possessions -- pawned for pennies on the dollar to get another rock -- and then their friends' and families' possessions, thieved for more rocks, their cars, their homes -- all gone to feed a habit so compulsive women would give blow jobs in alleys for enough money for another rock and men would steal old ladies' purses in the street.

But who would find something like that alluring? Farber points to ethnologist Philippe Bourgeois, who lived among and wrote about a group of Queens crack dealers and their clientele, for an explanation: "Crack as a preferred drug of abuse only appeals to desperate population subgroups who are victims of extreme forms of structural violence," Bourgeois wrote.

Farber himself elaborates on that theme: "Crack become so popular and then so problematic in poor communities... because most of the people drawn to chronic crack use were already in deep trouble of all kinds before they took their first hit," he writes. "The trouble -- economic, educational, psychological, cultural… the list goes on -- was shaped by the callous and racist society in which they lived. And then once these troubled people started using crack, most every kind of authority, from the police to social workers to local prosecutors, mostly made their lives worse rather than trying to help them."

It didn't help, Farber explains, that the crews getting rich off selling crack were almost entirely Black, whether Dominicans, Jamaicans, or African-Americans. That made it all the easier for mass media and politicians to demonize them, and indeed, fed by a feast of sensational crack stories, by 1988, nearly two-thirds of American cited drugs as the worst problem facing the country. And by drugs, they largely meant crack.

The political response to the ravages of crack -- not just the decimation of its users but also the violence and disorder of the black-market crack trade -- was savage. At the federal level, Farber traces the three separate crime bills in the 1980s and 1990s (including one in which Joe Biden played a significant role) that paved the way for mass incarceration), including the creation of the infamous 100:1 crack vs. powder cocaine sentencing disparity.

But going after Michelle Alexander's thesis in The New Jim Crow that the crackdown on crack was driven almost entirely by racism, Farber draws out the leading role played by Black politicians, particularly Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, who hounded the Republicans in power in the 1980s to lower the hammer. In so doing, Rangel was responding to increasingly loud complaints from his Black constituents, who for obvious reasons didn't want gun battles, thefts, and dissolute behavior on their doorsteps.

But while federal crack prosecutions helped stuff the federal prison system to the rafters, states and localities certainly added to the repression. Farber points to Chicago, where by 1987 the number of drug cases alone more than doubled the total number of felony cases in the county just a dozen years earlier. The creation in 1989 of a special drug court to handle crack cases dramatically accelerated a streets-to-prison pipeline. The special crack court simply rationalized and made more efficient the effort that sent thousands of mainly Black Chicagoans into the state prison system.

Farber also takes a fascinating look at the links between crack, crack culture, and hip-hop, which all emerged at roughly the same time in the same places, and some of whose stars (Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Biggie Smalls) grew up in the trade. The garish displays of wealth endemic to both the trade and hip-hop culture, were symbols of status in impoverished communities.

And wasn't that what America was all about? The 1980s, after all, was the era of "greed is good," and if that attitude held on Wall Street, it also held on the streets. Farber doesn't excuse the violence of the trade -- it precipitated a large increase in murders nearly everywhere it emerged -- or the callousness of knowingly selling an addictive, life-wrecking drug to one's neighbors -- nor does he minimize the damage done to the users most in its grip (and their families and their communities), but he expresses some sympathy for the people whose only real access to the American dream was through slingin' rocks.

"For a short while in the 1980s and 1990s" he writes, "crack was the main chance for tens of thousands of unemployed, undercapitalized young men who dreamed of a world where they were rich and respected and admired. The crack sellers and the crack bingers invented a consumer marketplace with the tools they had on hand and within the possibilities they could imagine. Within their economic and cultural realm, in a broader culture of entrepreneurial greed, what they did made sense."

Crack is a fine work of social and cultural history. If you thought you already knew all about crack, think again, then go out and add this to your library.

Maine Marijuana Stores to Finally Open, KY "Breonna's Law" Banning No-Knock Raids Filed, More... (8/17/20)

After years of delay, Maine regulators say retail marijuana outlets will be open in October, eight people were killed in a Colombian region where different leftist guerrillas are fighting each other for control of the drug trade, and more.

Breonna Taylor (family photo)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Marijuana Retail Shops to (Finally) Open in October. It's been nearly four years since Mainers voted to legalize marijuana, and finally, the state is ready for the outlets to open. The state Office of Marijuana Policy will issue its first recreational marijuana business licenses on September 8, giving stores a month to harvest, test, and package their products before the October 9 opening date. "Today's announcement is a major milestone in honoring the will of Maine voters and a significant step toward launching a new industry in the state," OMP Director Erik Gundersen said in a statement.

Law Enforcement

Kentucky Bill Named for Breonna Taylor Would Ban No-Knock Raids. State Rep. Attica Scott (D) announced Sunday that she was filing a bill named "Breonna's Law" that would ban no-knock search warrants statewide. Under the bill, police would have to knock and announce their presence, police would be subject to alcohol and drug testing after killing someone, and police body cameras to be turned on for at least five minutes before and after serving a warrant. Breonna Taylor was an Emergency Medical Technician shot and killed by Louisville Metro Police officers serving a no-knock warrant for a drug raid. No drugs were found, but her boyfriend opened fire on the late-night home invaders, injuring one officer, and officer fired back wildly, killing Taylor. Her cause has been taken up by the Black Lives Matter movement, and her death has sparked months of protests in Louisville.

International

Eight Gunned Down in Colombia Coca-Growing Region. Unknown gunmen shot and killed eight people in one of Colombia's primary coca-growing regions, officials said Sunday. The killings took place in the town of Samaniego in Narino department, where 20 people have been gunned down in the last two month. Narino borders Ecuador, making it a strategic location on a favored route for smuggling drugs north to Central America and the US. Leftist FARC rebel dissidents are fighting for control of the region with another leftist guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army.

New Federal Legalization Bill, Houston Narcs Indicted, Peru Coca Production Up (Maybe), More... (8/3/20)

Peru and the US are in a dispute over how much coca and cocaine is produced there, Houston narcs involved in a deadly botched drug raid get indicted, and more.

How much coca and cocaine is Peru producing?
Marijuana Policy

New Senate Bill Would Legalize Marijuana Like Tobacco. Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) has filed the Substance Regulation and Safety Act (S.4386), which would deschedule marijuana and require the Department of Health and Human Services to develop regulations that treat marijuana like tobacco. The bill would also create a national research institute to study the risks and benefits of marijuana, require the Department of Agriculture to set quality control standards and require the Department of Transportation to study methods for detecting THC-impaired driving.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Law Allowing Medical Marijuana for Any Debilitating Condition Now in Effect. A new law that broadly expands access to medical marijuana has now gone into effect. The new law allows doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients for any debilitating condition. Under the state's old law, only a limited list of specified illnesses and conditions were eligible for medical marijuana.

Law Enforcement

Houston Ex-Cops in Deadly Botched Drug Raid Indicted. A Harris County grand jury has indicted six former Houston narcotics officers after their unit came under scrutiny in the wake of a 2019 raid in which an innocent pair of homeowners were killed. Prosecutors charge that the former officers falsified documentation about drug payments to confidential informants, routinely used false information to get search warrants, and lied in police reports. A total of 17 felony charges were brought against the officers, led by Gerald Goines.

International

ONDCP Releases Data on Coca Cultivation and Production in Peru. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released the results of the annual United States Government estimates measuring coca cultivation and potential cocaine production for the Republic of Peru: "Coca (the plant used to make cocaine) cultivation in Peru significantly increased to 72,000 hectares in 2019, with potential pure cocaine production of 705 metric tons… "Coca cultivation in Peru and across the Andean Region of South America remains a significant threat to the American people. That's why President Trump ordered a surge in counternarcotics operations to take the fight directly to the drug cartels. This surge has already resulted in preventing 183,521 pounds of cocaine from entering the United States, resulting in $2.1 billion in lost revenue for drug cartels. As part of its partnership with the United States, Peru must expand its efforts to curb coca cultivation and production. The Trump Administration remains committed to bringing those who profit from drug trafficking to justice with the singular goal of saving American lives," ONDCP Director Jim Carroll said.

Peru Rejects US Estimates on Increased Cocaine and Coca Leaf Production. The Peruvian government on Saturday rejected an ONDCP report that said coca leaf and cocaine production had dramatically increased last year. The anti-drug office, Devida, said the report contained "a series of errors" because it did not consider the amount of coca eradicated nor the traditional consumption of coca and the country's licit coca industry, which does not produce cocaine.

Book Review: The Year of Dangerous Days: Riots, Refugees, and Cocaine in Miami 1980 [FEATURE]

The Year of Dangerous Days: Riots, Refugees, and Cocaine in Miami 1980 by Nicholas Griffin (2020, Simon & Schuster, 318 pp., $26.99 HB)

In this, of all years, that a book like The Year of Dangerous Days should make an appearance seems apropos. As we live our own year of dangerous days, with pandemic, economic disruption, and streets simmering over police violence, especially aimed at Blacks, this is a tale of Florida's glittering jewel living through a similar three-pronged existential crisis.

It is both fast-paced thriller and thoughtful meditation on race, class, immigration, crime, and the role of cocaine in violence and corruption. We're still grappling with all those issues that beset Miami 40 years ago, a sad truth that doesn't reflect too favorably, but perhaps leaves some room for lessons to be learned.

In Dangerous Days, Miami resident and veteran author Nicholas Griffin takes us to 1970s Miami, or rather, the three Miamis: Anglo, Black, and Hispanic. With the city becoming increasingly Spanish-speaking thanks to the influx of Cuban refugees after Fidel Castro's revolution came to power in 1959, Whites were grumbling about speaking English in America, damn it! -- while Blacks were feeling displaced, left behind, and tired of heavy-handed policing and the Cubans were mainly flexing their growing political power as right-wing anti-communist extremists devoted to restoring their ancien regime 90 miles across the Caribbean in Havana.

The up-and-coming Sunbelt city was presided over by a charismatic, visionary Puerto Rican mayor, Maurice Ferre -- the city's first Latino mayor -- whose family construction business fueled its fortune by supplying the concrete that helped build the I-95 freeway through the heart of Overtown, the city's Black commercial and social soul back in 1965. That act of "urban renewal" drove thousands of displaced black residents into Liberty City, the nation's first public housing project, where tensions festered throughout the 1970s.

Ferre's vision for Miami was as a southward-facing city keyed to the economies of Latin America -- and it worked. Foreign banks piled into the city, Latin American tourism and home-buying boomed, and Miami soon earned the sobriquet "the capital of Latin America" as flight capital from Central and South American countries. But capital flight alone couldn't account for the massive, multi-billion dollar surpluses showing up in the Miami Federal Reserve bank at the time. That money was cocaine cash.

The laundered cash from cocaine sales took place quietly and largely unnoticed -- at least at first -- but the violence unleashed by Colombian drug traffickers in Miami was another story. The July 1979 Dadeland Mall Massacre put those gunmen on the map, and repeated brazen broad daylight killings by Colombian hitmen finally got the attention of Miami police, although they remained bewildered by just who they were dealing with. (And the homicide unit in particular remained hampered by the fact that a third of its detectives went down in a cocaine corruption bust engineered by the FBI.)

Griffin follows an eventual joint federal-local investigation into cocaine money-laundering, Operation Greenback, as its operatives watch a key Colombian money-launderer literally carrying duffle bags full of cash to a series of all-too-welcoming banks on a daily basis. And he follows the efforts of Miami police and prosecutor Janet Reno to actually arrest and convict their first Colombian hitman. Here's where the book most resembles a police procedural.

From a drug policy perspective, Griffin is not great. For him, that cocaine is illegal is unquestioned, and the role of its illegality in generating both violence and black-market profits in the billions goes largely unmentioned. He does mention that if cocaine were legal, that money launderer would just be considered a hard-working professional, but he leaves it at that.

At least Mayor Ferre acknowledged the role of cocaine capital in helping build the city: He called the illicit drug trade "a depravity of the human soul," but then went on to say that "from the economic point of view, once the money goes to the bank and gets deposited, and is loaned out to build more condominiums, well, money is money."

Miami's 1980 cocaine crisis was, of course, only part of the city's struggle that year. After Dade County police beat Black motorcyclist Art McDuffy to death in late 1979, the city's Black community seethed with anger, and when an all-White jury in Tampa cleared the killer cops of any criminal liability, Liberty City exploded in some of the worst race riots of the past half-century. Over three days in May, the destruction left 10 Blacks and eight Whites dead and at least $80 million in property damage before the flames died down. Griffin details the trajectory of this disaster in fine form.

At the same time, tensions over immigration exploded when Fidel Castro responded to pressure (from within and without) to let disaffected Cubans leave the island by opening the doors to a flotilla of boats piloted by Miami Cubans gone to rescue their family members. This resulted in the Mariel boatlift, in which more than 100,000 Cubans were ferried to Miami. But Castro had the last laugh, using the boatlift to dump thousands of prisoners, mental patients, and other "anti-social elements" on Florida.

Between the cocaine cowboys, the racial tensions that exploded in Liberty City, and the radical demographic shift heralded by the Marielitos, 1980 was indeed a watershed year for Miami. Nicholas Griffin turns the tangled tales of triple trouble into an eminently readable and illuminating tale, even if he doesn't provide us with a scathing critique of the results of cocaine prohibition.

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