Breaking News:EVENT: "The Continuing Detention of Senator Leila de Lima," UN Human Rights Council, Geneva and Online

Cocaine

RSS Feed for this category

Book Review: Kilo: Inside the Deadliest Cocaine Cartels -- From the Jungle to the Streets [FEATURE]

Kilo: Inside the Deadliest Cocaine Cartels -- From the Jungle to the Streets, by Toby Muse (2020, William Morrow, 303 pp., $28.99 HB)

For the last 40 years, Colombia has been one of the world's leading coca and cocaine producers, vying with Peru and Bolivia for the title each year, and recently consistently coming out on top as the world's largest producer. This despite billions of dollars spent by the Colombian government and the United States to try to eradicate the crop and suppress the trade.

It's also -- and not coincidentally -- been one of the most violent countries on the planet. A decades-long civil war between the leftist militants of the FARC and the Colombian state left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced. And after coca and cocaine took hold beginning in the 1980s, that civil war morphed into a vicious, multi-sided conflict featuring not only more leftist guerillas of various stripes and Colombian military and police forces aided and abetted by the US, but also various rightist paramilitary forces controlled by drug lords and conservative wealthy landowners working in collusion with security forces.

With Kilo, Bogotá-based journalist Toby Muse dives deep inside Colombia's coca and cocaine trade to provide unparalleled reporting both on the industry and on the dance of death it provokes again and again and again. He starts at the beginning: in the coca fields of a Catatumbo province, near the Venezuelan border. There, refugees from the economic implosion across the line now form the majority of raspachines, the farm hands whose job it is to strip the bushy plants of their coca-laden leaves. At the end of each harvest day, they tote large bags filled with the day's haul to the farm scale to be weighed and paid. They might get $8 a day.

In simple labs -- a wooden shack or maybe four poles and a tarp -- that dot the jungly countryside -- those humble leaves are pulverized and steeped in a chemical brew to create coca paste, one step away from the white powder, cocaine hydrochloride. A ton of leaves is transformed into a kilo and a half of paste, which the farmer can sell for about $400. That used to be good money, but the price has held steady for 20 years, there's more coca than ever, and costs have gone up.

But while the introduction of coca as a cash crop initially brought boom times, the smell of all the cash being generated inevitably attracted the attention of the armed groups, those strange hybrid revolutionary drug traffickers and rightist narco-militias. And that meant fighting and disappearances and massacres as the men with the guns fought to control the lucrative trade. Where coca comes, death follows, Muse writes.

Muse follows the kilo, now processed into cocaine, to the local market town, a Wild West sort of place where traffickers meet farmers, farmers get paid, and the local prostitutes -- again, now mostly Venezuelan -- get lots of business. He interviews all sorts of people involved in the trade or affected by it, from the $12 an hour sex workers to the drunken, just paid farmers and raspachines and the business hustlers who flock to the town to peddle flat screen TVs and the urban traffickers who come out to the sticks to pick up their cocaine.

And then it's on to Medellin, famed as the home of OG drug lord Pablo Escobar, and now a bustling, modern metropolis where cocaine still fuels the economy but where the drug barons are no longer flashy rural rubes but quiet men in suits, "the Invisibles," as they're now known. They may be lower profile, but they're still ruthless killers who hire poor, ambitious local kids, known as sicarios, to do the actual killing. Muse wins the confidence of a mid-level trafficker, a former policeman who learned the trade from the other side and now applies his knowledge to run an international cocaine network.

And he parties with the narcos at Medellin night clubs, techno music blasting, guests wasted on whiskey and cocaine and 2-CB ("pink cocaine," like cocaine with a psychedelic tinge, an elite party drug that costs $30 a gram while cocaine goes for $3). This glamorous life is what it's all about, what makes the constant fear or death or imprisonment worth it:

"The clubs feel like the center of this business of dreams. Cocaine has all the nervous energy of a casino where everyone keeps winning money, sex is everywhere, and at any moment, someone might step up and put a bullet in your head. This is the deal in cocaine and people are happy to take it."

Nobody expects to last too long in the trade, but they live the high life while they can. Muse's drug trafficker, Alex, doesn't make it to the end of the book, gunned down by somebody else's sicario. But before he is killed, that titular kilo makes its way out of the country and into the eager noses of London or Los Angeles.

Muse's descriptions of life in the cocaine business are vivid and detailed; his atmospherics evoke the tension of lives outside the law, where no one is to be trusted, and brutal death can come in an instant. A young sicario whom he interviews over a period of months, ages before our eyes, killing for his bosses, afraid of being killed in turn, and numbing himself in between hits with whiskey and cocaine. He wants out, but there looks to be no exit.

As a good journalist, Muse also interviews the drug law enforcers, the cops who bust mules at the Bogotá airport, the drug dog handlers running the aisles of massive export warehouses, the naval officers who hunt down the narco-subs. And it is only here, where the futility of their Sisyphean task is evident, that any critique of drug prohibition is articulated:

"">No one knows how widespread corruption is in the airports and ports. Police officers admit it's a huge problem, but only in private, off the record. That's the hypocrisy of the drug war. In formal interviews, officers point out how well they're doing, the positive results. And as soon as the interview is over, and the recorder stops, they sit back and tell you what's really happening. They tell you of the constant problem of corruption, how the war is unwinnable, and how the only solution is legalization. In private, to state that the war on cocaine can be won would make you look like an idiot. To admit the war is unwinnable in public is to end a career."

That's as close as Muse gets to any policy prescriptions. Still, Kilo digs as deep into the trade as anyone ever has, and he has the journalistic chops to make a bracing, informative, and very disturbing read. This may be as close to the Colombian cocaine business as you want to get.

AZ Poll Shows Strong Support for MJ Legalization, BC Premier Asks for Canada Drug Decrim, More... (7/21/20)

The city of Chicago will pay out big time for seizing the vehicles of people in small-time drug busts, a California bill would undo some drug war sentencing excesses, the Colombian opposition has filed a bill to decriminalize and regulate cocaine, and more.

Cocaine could be decriminalized and regulated under a bill being considered in Colombia. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll has support for marijuana legalization at 62%. The poll comes as backers of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act legalization initiative awaits confirmation from state officials that it has submitted a sufficient number of valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Asset Forfeiture

Chicago to Pay $5 Million to Settle Class Action Suit Over Vehicles Seized in Drug Busts. A city council committee on Monday approved a $5 million payout to settle a class action lawsuit filed by two people whose vehicle was seized after a passenger was arrested for marijuana possession. The settlement will apply to hundreds of other cases where drivers had their vehicles impounded as part of drug cases. The settlement will pay people whose cars were seized the estimated Kelly Blue Book value of the vehicle.

Sentencing

California Bill Would End Mandatory Jail and Prison Sentences for Drug Offenses. State Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) has filed SB 378, which would repeal 1980s drug war laws that enacted mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. Under current law, judges are denied the discretion to sentence drug offenders to probation or diversion. "For a lot of people in progressive California it is surprising to hear that in 2020, with all of the reforms that we've been working on for years, that there are still mandatory jail or prison sentences for non-violent drug offenses," Wiener explained. "But here we are in California, in 2020, with mandatory prison or jail sentences for nonviolent drug sentences," he said.

International

British Columbia Premier Asks Canadian Federal Government to Decriminalize Drugs. BC Premier John Horgan sent a letter Monday to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to have the federal government decriminalize drug possession. Such a move would "reduce the systemic stigma associated with illicit drug use and support people to access the services that they need," he said. "Criminal prohibitions are ineffective in deterring drug use, and criminalization of drug possession directly leads to both individuals and systemic stigma and discrimination that prevent people from seeking services," he added.

Colombia Opposition Files Cocaine Decriminalization Bill. A pair of opposition senators have filed a bill to decriminalize cocaine and regulate its production. The bill is part of a broader package to end the war on drugs that was filed last year by the leftist and centrist opposition blocs. The bill seeks strict state control over coca cultivation and cocaine production in a bid to cut the finances of drug trafficking organizations and armed groups.

Colombia After the Peace Accords: A Conversation with Vanda Felbab-Brown [FEATURE]

Four years ago, Colombia's decades-long civil war officially came to an end when the leftist rebels of the FARC signed a peace agreement with then-President Juan Manuel Santos. The accord envisioned the demobilization of the FARC as a military force and the use of alternative development to wean peasant farmers from their coca crops and end the country's reputation as a cocaine capital.

Colombian peasant harvesting the coca crop. (DEA.gov)
Four years on, it is probably unfair to call the peace deal a failure, but it hasn't exactly produced the hoped-for results. President Santos completed his term and was replaced by rightist Ivan Duque, who is much less enthusiastic about the accords and whose administration has lagged at implementing the alternative development provisions of the peace deal.

The FARC did demobilize, but last year, after at least 139 FARC members who had laid down their guns were murdered, dissident FARC leaders announced they were rejoining the path of armed struggle, taking several thousand fighters with them. In taking up arms once again, the FARC dissidents rejoined a vicious, multi-sided fight for control of the cocaine trade that never went away. That fight includes gangs from across the border in Venezuela, rightist paramilitary bandas, two different factions of the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN), the Colombian military, and at least two major Mexican drug cartels, Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation.

Efforts under Duque to cut coca and cocaine production have not worked. With Duque's government only grudgingly supporting crop substitution and rural development programs that are broadly considered more effective, instead promoting forced eradication, Colombian cocaine production hit a record high last year.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration now views Colombia less as a principal ally in the region and more as a chess piece to be used against the Venezuelan regime of Nicholas Maduro. When it comes to the issue of coca and cocaine, the administration has taken a hard line that harkens back to the days of Plan Colombia. This year, Trump has demanded that Columbia resume spraying of coca crops, proposed an assistance package that slashes economic development aid while nearly doubling anti-drug funding, and deployed a US army brigade to Colombia on a drug-fighting mission.

This week, Drug War Chronicle got on the phone with Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow in the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution. She is the co-director of the Brookings series on opioids: "The Opioid Crisis in America: Domestic and International Dimensions." Previously, she was the co-director of the Brookings project, "Improving Global Drug Policy: Comparative Perspectives Beyond UNGASS 2016," as well as of another Brookings project, "Reconstituting Local Orders." Felbab-Brown is an expert on international and internal conflicts and nontraditional security threats, including insurgency, organized crime, urban violence, and illicit economies. Her fieldwork and research have covered, among others, Afghanistan, South Asia, Burma, Indonesia, the Andean region, Mexico, Morocco, Somalia, and eastern Africa. She is a senior advisor to the congressionally mandated Afghanistan Peace Process Study Group.

Here's what she had to say:

On the disappointing results of the 2016 accord:

"The peace deal was significant, but produced incomplete results," said Felbab-Brown. "One reason is that non-state actors persisted. The other reason is that the Duque government doesn't like that deal, so it has a policy of death by a thousand cuts, doing the minimum necessary to appear to comply with the law produced by the peace deal while really doing very little."

"The deal was extremely optimistic both in process and in implementation," she argued, pointing to the example of Thailand, where some 30,000 acres of opium poppies were being grown in the 1960s and even with a highly sustained commitment from the Thai monarchy, it took 30 years to end the practice.

"That's only one-tenth of the issue Colombia struggles with," she noted. "The idea that peace would eliminate coca production was unrealistic, but it was necessary to sell the peace plan to the public. People thought that if there was coca, the fighting would persist. And the need to sell it to the United Nations meant people had to emphasize it as part of alternative development."

"Development was the right policy stress, but it was unhampered by a realistic assessment of how long it would take, how much coca would persist untampered by a realistic assessment of how long it would take and how much coca would persist. A fundamental difficulty for Colombia, among others, is that the resources of the state to do rural development and create alternative livelihoods are quite limited."

"The notion that everyone would be asked to get rid of their coca to go through the compensation process created the mess we are seeing now," she said. "Even if it was not possible to bring in enough resources to accomplish this at the national level, it was worsened by Duque's dislike of the policy and his slowing down of rural development efforts. But it still wasn't going to happen in three years of payments and then no more coca. They've tried that about 20 times before, and it always crashed. There's no reason to believe this would be any different."

On the Trump administration's Colombia policy:

Brookings scholar Vanda Felbab-Brown (Brookings.edu)
"The Trump administration has been back to the 1980s with a rigid, doctrinaire view centered on supply-side policies," she observed. "That said, it has come up with some surprising mutations that you wouldn't expect from a regular Republican administration, as when in 2017 it threatened to decertify Colombia as not living up to US-imposed drug fighting objectives. Republicans were consternated, and so were the Colombians, who expected that Trump would be close to Duque. Trump likes rightist governments and a heavy military emphasis. The administration has been weak dealing with the opioid crisis at home and focused on heavy eradication in Colombia. And Trump has really degraded Colombia. Previous administrations saw it as a principle ally and partner in South America, but Trump views Colombia principally as a platform against Venezuela."

"Trump has two objectives in Colombia: Venezuela and drugs," Felbab-Brown said. "On the drug side, he wants aerial spraying with US contractors. It depends on the day or the month whether drugs or Venezuela is first on the agenda, but Venezuela tends to dominate."

Whether the Trump administration can bend the Colombian government to a deeper role in its anti-Maduro machinations remains to be seen, but that may be a dead end now, anyway, Felbab-Brown said.

"Coca kind of competes with Trump's focus on Colombia as a source of policies against Venezuela, and while Duque is more forward leading in that regard than former president Santos, he realizes he can't risk war or meltdown in Venezuela," she said. "So they've been trying to satisfy Trump without causing a real blowup without any real strategy. After that Guaido stunt with the food aid, both the US and Colombia have been left without any kind of way forward."

On best policies moving forward:

If she were advising the Colombian and US governments, Felbab-Brown said, she would emphasize consolidating the zonas de futuro, where the Duque government is trying to introduce a government presence in five abandoned regions where armed groups and drug trafficking flourish, making up less than three percent of the national territory, instead of worrying about coca eradication.

The "future zones" are Colombia's bid to exert sovereign control over ungoverned parts of its territory. (fupad.org)
"A key line of effort would be to think through how the zonas could be made viable, how best to maximize the policy engagement in the zonas and how to expand them. A key problem with earlier versions of this strategy is that if you succeed, you end up with patches of government presence unconnected to anything else. They need to be made contiguous and connected," she argued.

"I would not care about eradication that much," Felbab-Brown said. "Although it would be unrealistic for a US administration to say that, it could strongly suggest it is not our metric. While Congress can put on pressure for more eradication, I would try to think about where it doesn't cause too much harm to the objective of stabilization. Much of the thinking in both governments is that eradication enhances stability, but it actually hampers it," she said.

"Instead, think about progress in reducing violence in strategic areas. How can we minimize the presence of the bandas, the Venezuelan groups, the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels, both of whom are active in Colombia? How can we neuter them or push them out? This is what I would be thinking."

"At a broader strategic level, I would try to persuade Duque to make a much greater effort in rural development and equity, all that. We'll never make Duque into Santos, but perhaps a better version of himself.

On legalization as a solution:

Felbab-Brown was leery of legalization as a solution.

"It's a fantasy in terms of feasibility," she said. "Who is going to legalize cocaine? Not even Switzerland or the Netherlands would go there. And I'm not persuaded it would address the reasons why Colombia is so violent. If you legalized the coca crop, what is the guarantee that these same actors wouldn't be able to get their hands on the coca fields?" she asked.

"There is also a big fallacy in believing that violent actors have control because the commodities are illegal," she argued. "If anything, the conflict isn't just about coca, but timber, gold, and rare minerals -- all legal commodities. These non-state actors are deeply involved in those economies, the dissident groups are interested in the diversification of their portfolios. In Choco, for instance, where there is some of the most intense fighting, some of it is about coca, but more of it is about control of timber and the port. The FARC dissidents, the bandas, the ELN, Sinaloa and Jalisco, they're all there."

"The issue is not fundamentally about whether the commodity is legal or not. Look at the fighting over avocados in Mexico. You can argue for legalizing marijuana or poppies, but legality or illegality is not the crux of the issue. If Mexico wants to legalize poppies, it needs to fix its collapsed law enforcement first."

[Ed: Our organization's view is that global drug prohibition drives up the value and prices for coca and its derivatives, generating tremendous profits for criminal organizations, which get reinvested in other areas of crime and which contribute to their ability to influence political systems. If it would be impossible to secure licit coca grows in Colombia from being taken over by bad actors, another option would be to establish competing operations in other countries with stronger legal systems, providing coca and its derivatives for less than the crime organizations do. We do recognize that transitions between systems have the potential to go wrong, and we don't expect legalization to solve every problem that's become intertwined with prohbition.]

NV Mass Marijuana Pardons, Colombia Cocaine Surge, NJ Pot Decrim Bill Advances, More... (6/18/20)

Fifteen thousand Nevada pot offenders just got automatic pardons, the UN says Colombian potential cocaine production was up last year, Kansas City moves toward pot decriminalization, and more.

Potential Colombian cocaine production was up slightly last year, the UNODC reports. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada Pardons 15,000 People with Marijuana Convictions. Under a resolution from Gov. Steve Sisolak (D), the Board of Pardons Commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved automatic pardons for 15,000 people who had been arrested on marijuana possession charges between January 1986 and January 2017. "Today is an historic day for those who were convicted of what has long been considered a trivial crime, and is now legal under Nevada law," the governor said in a press release. "Since the passage of [adult-use legalization] in 2016 and the decriminalization of possession for small amounts of marijuana, many Nevadans  have had these minor offenses remain on their records, in some cases as a felony. This resolution aims to correct that and fully restore any rights lost as a result of these convictions."

New Jersey Assembly Passes Marijuana Decriminalization Legislation. The Assembly on Thursday easily approved a marijuana decriminalization bill, A1897, by a 63-10 vote. The measure decriminalizes the possession and distribution of up to two ounces of marijuana by adults — making these activities punishable by a $50 fine. Those found to be in violation of the law will no longer be arrested or saddled with a criminal record. A broader decriminalization bill that includes more social justice provisions, S2535, is pending in the Senate. Full marijuana legalization is already on the ballot for November.

Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Rolls Out Decriminalization Ordinance. Mayor Quinton Lucas (D) and at least four city council members introduced a marijuana decriminalization ordinance Thursday. The proposed ordinance would remove the offense of marijuana possession from the city code. "One of the ways we improve police-community relations is by eliminating laws that for too long have led to negative interactions, arrests, convictions, and disproportionate rates of incarceration of Black men and Black women," said Lucas. "Reducing petty offenses – such as municipal marijuana offenses – reduce these negative interactions each day."

International

UNODC Says Colombia's Potential Cocaine Output Increased Slightly Last Year. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Wednesday that potential production of pure cocaine increased 1.5% last year to 1,137 metric tons. The increase in production potential came even as the area under coca cultivation decreased slightly. The increase in productivity is because coca growing is now concentrated in specific areas. The report comes as the Colombian government faces mounting pressure from the US to reduce cocaine exports.

US Rep Calls for Drug Decriminalization, Prohibition-Related Violence in Colombia and Mexico, More... (6/11/20)

South Dakota marijuana activists launch their election campaign this week, Nevada's governor proposes mass pardons for small time pot possession charges, Michigan's governor signs a roadside drug testing bill into law, and more.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) is calling for drug decriminalization as part of a police accountability plan. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada Governor Proposes Pardons for Minor Marijuana Convictions. Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) announced Thursday that he will propose a plan to pardon tens of thousands of people convicted on minor marijuana possession charges before the state legalized the drug in 2017. "The people of Nevada have decided that possession of small amounts of marijuana is not a crime," the governor said. "If approved, this resolution will clear the slate for thousands of people who bear the stigma of a conviction for actions that have now been decriminalized."

South Dakota Marijuana Advocates Kick Off Campaign for Both Legalization and Medical Marijuana Initiatives. With both a marijuana legalization initiative, Constitutional Amendment A, and a medical marijuana initiative, Initiated Measure 26, already qualified for the ballot, marijuana activists kicked off their election season campaign to get them both approved in November. If both were approved by voters, the state would become the first to legalize both recreational and medical marijuana on the same day.

Drug Policy

Oregon US Congressman Calls for Drug Decriminalization as Part of Policing Reform Plan. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) released a police accountability plan on Tuesday that includes proposals to legalize marijuana and decriminalize other drugs to reduce over-policing of communities of color. "Reducing police interactions by using non-law enforcement to deal with minor crimes and activities, and repealing punitive drug laws could reduce the criminalization and over-policing of communities of color," the plan states. "We need to rethink the way police are used and encourage alternative policing models that address institutional racism as they are being created." Such a plan would include repealing "policies that incentivize over-policing of communities of color, including the prohibition of cannabis and the decriminalization of other drugs."

Drug Testing

Michigan Governor Signs Roadside Drug Testing Pilot Program Bill. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday signed into law Senate Bill 718, which establishes a statewide pilot program for roadside drug testing for drivers. The test will use saliva to detect the presence of amphetamines, benzodiazepines, cannabis (delta 9 THC), cocaine, methamphetamines and opiates.

International

Colombia's Coca-Growing Cauca Department Wracked with Violence. Armed groups fighting over control over the coca and cocaine trade have been engaging in targeted assassinations and gun battles in southwestern Cauca department. Dissident members of the FARC, which laid down its arms as part of a 2016 peace accord, have been going after their former comrades, while different factions of the National Liberation Army (ELN) clashed with each other. Meanwhile, the targeted killings of social leaders and activists have also continued, with more than 40 killed in the department so far this year.

Mexico's Guanajuato State Hammered by Weekend of Cartel Violence. Nearly three dozen people were killed in a spate of drug gang killings in the central industrial state of Guanajuato over the weekend. In the deadliest single incident, a group of gunmen attacked a drug rehabilitation center in Irapauto and killed 10 people. The violence is linked to a bloody turf war between the Jalisco Cartel and the local Santa Rosa de Lima gang.

Congressional Resolution Condemns Police Brutality and Drug War, West Coast Pot Shops Trashed, More... (6/1/20)

West Coast marijuana stores get looted in the upheaval gripping the land, a dozen members of Congress file a resolution calling for an end to police brutality and the war on drugs, the Louisiana legislature has been busy passing marijuana bills, and more.

A dozen members of Congress call for an end to police brutality and the war on drugs. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

California, Oregon Marijuana Dispensaries Hit by Looters. California and Oregon marijuana dispensaries are among the businesses hit by the wave of unrest sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. A number of them have been looted and vandalized, including Harborside, Blu, ECO Cannabis, and Magnolia Wellness in Oakland, 10 dispensaries in San Francisco, and five more in Los Angeles. In Oregon, at least two dispensaries were hit in Portland and one in Oakland.

Louisiana Legislature Passes Marijuana Banking Bill. The state Senate last Friday gave final approval to House Bill 211, which would protect banks and credit unions serving marijuana businesses from facing penalties from state regulators. The bill has already passed the House, and now heads to the desk of Gov. John Bel Edwards (D).

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. With a final vote in the House on Sunday, the legislature gave final approval to House Bill 819, which would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana for any debilitating medical conditions. It now goes to the desk of Gov. John Bel Edwards (D).

Asset Forfeiture

Tennessee Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances in House. A minor civil asset forfeiture reform bill, House Bill 0340, was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last Friday. The bill does not ban civil asset forfeiture, but instead eliminates the requirement that someone whose property has been seized through asset forfeiture post a $350 bond to appeal that seizure. Tennessee is one of only three states that have such requirements. The bill now heads to the House Finance, Ways, and Means Committee.

Drug Policy

Congressional Resolution Condemns Police Brutality, War on Drugs. A dozen members of the House filed a resolution last Friday that condemns police brutality and the racial injustice of the war on drugs. The resolution comes in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer who suffocated him to death and Breonna Taylor in Louisville in a fatally flawed drug raid. The "system of policing in America, and its systemic targeting of and use of deadly and brutal force against people of color, particularly Black people, stems from the long legacy of slavery, lynching, Jim Crow laws, and the War on Drugs in the United States and has been perpetuated by violent and harmful law enforcement practices," the resolution says.

International

Honduras Passes Law Allowing it to Intercept Suspected Drug Smuggling Planes. In a move totally devoid of irony -- US prosecutors have accused high Honduran government officials of being corrupted by the drug trade -- the Honduran legislature has approved a law allowing security forces to intercept planes of smuggling drugs and to participate in more comprehensive intelligence sharing with the United States and other Latin American countries. Honduran officials said the law was aimed at "narco jets" mainly coming from Venezuela. The move comes as the Trump administration is increasing anti-drug operations in the Caribbean and sending US troops to Colombia.

COVID Impacts Cocaine Trade, Bolsters Dark Web Drug Market, More... (5/28/20)

Coronavirus is having differential impacts on the illicit drug trade, Michigan groups push to end the state's drug felon foodstamp ban, Colombian rebels call for a coronavirus ceasefire, and more.

Coca prices are down because of the pandemic, but the cocaine trade keeps on keeping on. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Gets Boost from Federal Judge's Signature-Gathering Ruling. A federal judge ruled Monday that a marijuana legalization initiative campaign, Arkansans for Cannabis Reform, can do electronic signature-gathering because of excessive burdens on in-person signature-gathering due to coronavirus pandemic social distancing. The judge ruled that the secretary of state must accept signatures not gathered in person or notarized. The campaign says it was on a path to gather sufficient signatures before in-person signature-gathering was suspended. It has until July 3 to hand in signatures.

Drug Policy

Michigan Bill Would Hike Heroin, Fentanyl Sales Penalties. State Rep. Brian Elder (D-Bay City) has filed a bill, HB 5627, that would increase penalties for the manufacture and delivery of heroin, fentanyl, and other synthetic opioid drugs. The bill is now before the House Judiciary Committee.

Michigan Groups Call on Governor to End Food Stamp Ban for Drug Felons. A coalition of 25 organizations led by the Center for Employment Opportunities is calling on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and legislative leaders to end a longtime state policy that permanently bans residents with two or more drug felony convictions from receiving food stamps. The ban is federal, but most states have already moved to receive waivers to avoid enforcing it. The groups say the ban makes it more difficult for people to make the transition from prison to civilian life.

International

Coronavirus Drives Dealers Online as Drugs Supply Soars. The cyber intelligence company Sixgill is reporting that dark web drug sales offers soared nearly 500% over the first few months of this year as drug dealers took to the web to continue doing business in a time of social distancing. The number of drug items for sale on dark websites monitored by Sixgill jumped from 4,154 in December 2019 to more than 24,000 by April 2020. MDMA postings more than doubled, marijuana postings increased more than five-fold, and cocaine postings jumped 10-fold. "Feedback, while an imperfect metric for purchase volume, is a reliable indicator of the rate of transactions," Sixgill explained. "Feedback volume for cannabis, cocaine, and MDMA all nearly doubled over the past half year."

Coronavirus Hits the Cocaine Supply Chain. The coronavirus pandemic is destabilizing the delicate balance in the Andes that the cocaine trade relies on. Lockdowns enforced by soldiers and police have caused trafficking routes to constrict, driving down the price of coca for the more than 237,000 families in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia who depend on it. In the latter two countries, the price of coca has dropped to from one-third to one-sixth of previous levels. "We're concerned about feeding our families because the price of coca continues to drop," said Bolivian coca union leader Albino Pinto. "We face restrictions in moving coca and other goods to the central market. This is blocking both local consumption and export, but our production continues at the same level." But the cocaine trade continues: "Drug traffickers have become more agile in shifting routes and modifying strategies," according to Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network. "Given the harsh reality for those who survive at the lowest rungs of the cocaine trade, pandemic control, just like drug control doesn't stop this business."

Colombia ELN Rebels Would Back Temporary Ceasefire to Help Contain Spread of Coronavirus. The National Liberation Army (ELN), which remains in rebellion against the government in Bogota and is involved in coca and cocaine production, has said it would be willing to take part in a three-month ceasefire to help quash the coronavirus. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for a global ceasefire back in March. The ELN said it was waiting for a response from the government of President Ivan Duque.

US Army Unit Heads to Colombia to Fight Drugs, LA Senate Approves MedMJ Expansion Bill, More... (5/28/20)

One Arkansas marijuana legalization campaign calls it quits for this year, the Louisiana Senate has passed a medical marijuana expansion bill, Tyson Timbs finally gets his Land Rover back, and more.

Montana medical marijuana patients will soon be able to shop at any dispensary they wish. (Sandra Yreul/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Stops Signature-Gathering. Arkansas True Grass, which sought to place a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana on the November ballot, has given up on this year, citing difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The group needed 90,000 valid voter signatures by July 3 to qualify, but now says it will turn its sights to 2022. Another initiative campaign, Arkansans for Cannabis Reform, continues to gather signatures.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Senate voted 28-6 Wednesday to approve House Bill 819, which would end a rule requiring doctors to register with the state to recommend it and give them broad authority to recommend for any debilitating health condition. The bill has already passed the House but has to go back to the lower chamber to approve amendments made in the Senate.

Montana to "Untether" Medical Marijuana Users, Allowing Multiple Providers. As of next Tuesday, medical marijuana patients will no longer be stuck using a sole provider. Under a bill approved last year, patients will now be able to seek their medicine from any dispensary or provider. That bill allows patients to purchase up to one ounce per day, with a maximum of five ounces per month. But the daily purchase limit is temporarily suspended in a bid to reduce the number of in-store visits because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Oklahoma Activists Call for Legislature to Reconvene to Override Governor's Veto of Medical Marijuana Delivery Bill. After Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) last week vetoed a bill that would have allowed for medical marijuana deliveries, activists are calling on lawmakers to reconvene to override that veto. While other vetoes by Stitt were successfully overridden, the Senate refused to vote on this one, with the Senate leader's office saying "there was not enough support to override the veto in the Senate and it was not close."

Asset Forfeiture

Indiana Man in US Supreme Court Asset Forfeiture Case Finally Gets His Vehicle Back. Tyson Timbs, the Indiana man whose seized Land Rover resulted in a Supreme Court decision scaling back civil asset forfeiture, has finally gotten his vehicle back -- six years after it was seized over a drug bust. After the Supreme Court decision, a state court judge ordered the state to return Timbs' vehicle "immediately." That was April 27. Now, it's actually happened.

Foreign Policy

US Army Unit to Arrive in Colombia on Drug Fighting Mission. The US Embassy in Bogota announced Wednesday that a US Security Force Assistance Brigade will arrive in Colombia early next month. "SFAB's mission in Colombia is an opportunity to demonstrate our mutual commitment against drug trafficking and support for regional peace, respect for sovereignty and the lasting promise to defend shared ideals and values," said US Southern Commander Admiral Craig Faller in a statement. The move comes as Colombia's coca cultivation and cocaine production are a record high levels.

MT Judge Blocks E-Signatures for Pot Initiative, Europe Flooded With Cocaine Despite Pandemic, More... (5/1/20)

No electronic signature-gathering for the Montana marijuana legalization initiatives, a Canadian psychedelic decriminalization petition has enough signatures to send it to the House of Commons, Mexico's Jalisco New Generation Cartel is handing out crisis supplies in Puerta Vallarta, and more.

Cocaine seized in Madrid. Authorities aren't catching all of it, though. (espana.gob)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Judge Rejects Legalization Initiative's Pleas for Electronic Signature-Gathering. District Court Judge John Larson of Missoula on Thursday rejected a request from New Approach Montana, the people behind a pair of marijuana legalization initiatives, to allow electronic signature-gathering during the coronavirus pandemic. He held the governor's emergency orders related to the coronavirus do not prevent traditional signature gathering for ballot initiatives. He also rejected the group's request to extend the July 17 deadline for signatures. New Approach Montana is considering whether to appeal the decision.

International

Canadian Psychedelic Decriminalization Petition Goes to House of Commons. An electronic petition calling for the decriminalization of psychedelic plants and fungi will be presented in the House of Commons on Monday. It only needed 500 signatures to reach the threshold required for it to be presented to the House and had surpassed that figure within 12 hours of the petition going live on April 16. Organizers said their goal was 500,000 signatures, "so that there is no doubt left in the government's mind that the time is now to free these plants from the outdated laws that are keeping them from assisting in the healing work that's so desperately needed."

Europe Flooded with Cocaine Despite Coronavirus Trade Disruptions. Latin American drug traffickers have managed to send bumper shipments of cocaine in recent weeks despite the crunch the coronavirus pandemic is imposing on legitimate transatlantic trade. The traffickers have responded by packing huge loads of cocaine onto fewer container ships and commercial airplanes -- a sign they are willing to take bigger risks to get their goods to market. "The global pandemic, at this moment in time, has not had an effect on maritime drug trafficking. It's business as usual," said Michael O'Sullivan, head of the EU-funded Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre which coordinates interdictions at sea.

Mexico's Jalisco New Generation Cartel Hands Out Food in Puerta Vallarta. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) has been handing out food supplies in Pueta Vallarta. The supplies come in boxes marked with cartel logos and "Mencho," the name of the CJNG leader. Puerto Vallarta authorities continue to deny that the cartel is distributing food, despite multiple reports and images of the food boxes displaying the cartel's logo. The boxes contained toilet paper, sardines, tuna, oil, pasta, rice, beans, sugar, salt, cookies, among other items.

New Zealand Government Unveils Final Version of Marijuana Legalization Measure for 2020 Ballot. The New Zealand government has released the final version of the marijuana legalization referendum to be voted on by Kiwis in September. Adults 20 and over would be able to possess and purchase marijuana, grow two plants for personal use, and toke up at cannabis cafes. If approved by voters, the legislature would then have to pass a the bill, which means it could theoretically amend it.

US Indicts Venezuela's Maduro for "Narco-Terrorism," A Call to End Marijuana Arrests, Jailings, More... (3/26/20)

The US indicts a leftist Latin American leader for drug trafficking (but not a rightist one), a Michigan prosecutor gets nailed for embezzling asset forfeiture funds, and more.

The US escalates its feud with Venezuela by indicting President Nicholas Maduro for "narco-terrorism. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Law Enforcement Officials, Medical Professionals, Clergy, and Cannabis Advocates Call for the Cease of Cannabis Arrests and Release of Incarcerated Cannabis Offenders in Light of COVID-19.The Marijuana Policy Project and other organizations are urging law enforcement officials to dramatically curtail arrests for nonviolent crimes, including ceasing arrests for cannabis offenses. In addition to curtailing arrests, the organizations are calling for officials to release or grant clemency to those incarcerated for cannabis offenses along with dramatically reducing the number of incarcerated nonviolent prisoners, whether sentenced or un-sentenced. The Marijuana Policy Project, Last Prisoner Project, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Clergy for a New Drug Policy, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, National Cannabis Industry Association, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) have sent a letter calling for these actions to the National District Attorneys Association, National Governors Association, National Sheriffs' Association, National Association of Chiefs of Police, National Correctional Industries Association, American Correctional Association, and AFSCME.

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Urges Absentee Voting. New Approach South Dakota, the group behind the Constitutional Amendment A marijuana legalization initiative, announced this week is shifting its campaign to social media and urging state residents to consider absentee voting options. Unlike several other state-level legalization initiative campaigns, this one has already qualified for the ballot, so it doesn't have to worry about the coronavirus pandemic's impact on signature-gathering; now it's a matter of getting votes in the midst of the crisis.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Prosecutor Charged with Running Criminal Enterprise for Asset Forfeiture Fund Abuses. Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith has been hit with a slew of criminal charges for allegedly taking funds seized from drug and other suspects for his own personal use. He faces ten charges that include five counts of embezzlement, and single charges of running a criminal enterprise, tampering with evidence, conspiracy to commit forgery, misconduct in office and accessory after the fact. State officials said Smith used the money for a personal security system for his house, country club parties, campaign expenses and to buy flowers and make-up for his secretaries. Smith's former chief of staff, his current chief of operations, and a local businessman were also charged. They're alleged to have embezzled more than $600,000 since 2012.

Foreign Policy

US Indicts Venezuelan President Maduro on "Narco-Terrorism" Charges. Federal prosecutors on Thursday unveiled indictments of President Nicholas Maduro and other top Venezuelan officials on "narco-terrorism" charges in a new escalation of the Trump administration's pressure campaign against Caracas. US Attorney General William Barr accused Maduro and the others of conspiring with a dissident faction of the Colombian FARC guerrillas "to flood the United States with cocaine." Barr's move against Maduro stands in sharp contrast with the US approach to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, a staunch rightist and US ally, whom federal prosecutors have accused of taking bribes from drug traffickers, but who remains unindicted.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, Vaping, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School