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Chronicle Book Review: Opium's Orphans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AZ Poll Has MJ Init With Bare Majority, White House Releases Annual Drug Certification List, More... (9/16/20)

A new poll has the Arizona marijuana legalization initiative at 51%, the natural psychedelic decriminalization movement comes to Ann Arbor, and more.

President Trump released the annual certification of other countries' compliance with US drug policies on Wednesday. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Has Marijuana Legalization Initiative with Bare Majority. A new Monmouth University poll has the Prop 207 marijuana legalization initiative winning the support of 51% of registered voters, with 41% opposed, 6% undecided, and 3% who said they would not vote on the issue. That is an uncomfortably close margin, but at this late stage also a hopeful one. Traditionally an initiative campaign hopes to begin a campaign with 60% support, expecting to lose some voters as election day approaches and details of the initiative get debated.

Foreign Policy

White Houses Releases Annual Presidential Determination on Major Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries for Fiscal Year 2021. In an annual exercise in which the US grades other countries' compliance with US drug policy objectives, President Trump on Wednesday named 20 countries as "major drug transit or major illicit drug producing countries." They are: Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Burma, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. Although Venezuela is not a drug producing country, Trump named "the Venezuelan dictator, Nicholas Maduro" as "the most complicit kingpin in the Hemisphere." He also called on Colombia to "move forward with aerial spraying" of coca crops and Peru "to resume eradication operations in the country"s high yield coca producing regions, including the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers." He also warned Mexico that it must step up anti-drug operations if it wants to avoid being considered a country that "failed demonstrably to uphold its international drug control commitments."

Psychedelics

Ann Arbor, Michigan, City Council to Take Up Natural Psychedelic Lowest Priority Ordinance. The Ann Arbor city council will take up a ordinance that would make enforcement of laws against plant- and fungi-based psychedelic drugs the lowest law enforcement priority next Monday. Those drugs include psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, ayahuasca, mescaline, ibogaine and others. The move is being pushed by an activist group, Decriminalize Ann Arbor.

International

Brazil Fast-Tracks Legislation to Legalize Cultivation of Hemp, Medical Marijuana. The Brazilian legislature is moving a bill that would legalize the cultivation of medical marijuana and hemp. While efforts have been underway since 2015 to revise the country's marijuana laws, this new version of the legislation calls for cultivation, processing, research, storage, transportation, production, industrialization, commercialization, import and export of medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp be legalized.

DEA Loses Bid to Kill MJ Rescheduling Lawsuit, Canada to Stop Prosecuting Most Drug Possession Cases, More... (8/20/20)

A new poll shows bipartisan support for marijuana legalization, Colombian coca eradication goes into high gear amidst the pandemic, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New Poll Has Bipartisan Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Data for Progress has support for marijuana legalization at 58%, including 69% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans. Support among Democrats jumped to 79% when respondents were provided details of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which is currently pending before Congress. So did Republican support, which jumped to 60%.

Law Enforcement Professionals Call on Congress to Legalize Marijuana. More than 50 current and former law enforcement professionals have sent a letter to Congress urging it to move swiftly on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. The letter was signed by the National Black Police Association, Fair and Just Prosecution and Law Enforcement Action Partnership, in addition to dozens of current and former prosecutors, judges and police officers. Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) were among the list of signees.

Federal Appeals Court Rejects DEA Challenge to Marijuana Rescheduling Lawsuit. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a DEA request to throw out a lawsuit challenging marijuana's listing as a Schedule I drug. The lawsuit was filed in May by a group of scientists and veterans who argue that marijuana's classification is unconstitutional.

International

Canadian Federal Prosecutors Directed to Avoid Drug Possession Charges in Most Cases. The Public Prosecution Service of Canada has issued a directive to prosecutors to not prosecute drug possession cases unless major public safety concerns are involved. Charges should be filed only "in the most serious cases," said agency director Kathleen Roussel. In most cases, prosecutors should seek alternative approaches, such as restorative justice and indigenous approaches. "When deciding whether to initiate and conduct any prosecution, PPSC prosecutors must consider not only whether there is a reasonable prospect of conviction based on the evidence available but also whether a prosecution serves the public interest," she said.

Colombia Coca Eradication Goes into High Gear During Pandemic. Manual coca eradication is occurring at levels not seen for a decade even as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic. In June alone, more than 32,000 acres were forcibly eradicated, more than any month since the government and the FARC signed a peace treaty in 2016. "The government has taken advantage of the pandemic to do an eradication campaign and not to support farmers," said Eduardo Diaz, director of the Agency for the Voluntary Substitution of Illegal Crops under former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. "If the government wanted to support farmers, they would also take the opportunity to be present in the territories and support them in the production of food, support them in productive development. It takes the same effort to bring troops to do forced eradication as to bring technicians to do training and plant the fields... They have to pursue drug traffickers, but the farmers aren't drug traffickers."

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.]

Chronicle AM: Colombia Coca Moves, VT Legal Marijuana Sales Bill Advances, More... (2/25/20)

A Vermont bill to tax and regulate marijuana sales heads for a House floor vote, a potential Ohio marijuana legalization initiative campaign emerges, Israel's embattled prime minister says his government is open to marijuana legalization, and more.

A Colombian peasant working the coca fields. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Poll Has Slim Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Minnesota Public Radio and the Minneapolis Star Tribune has support for marijuana legalization at 51%, with 37% opposed. The poll comes after House Democrats last month revealed plans for a marijuana legalization bill. That bill faces tough prospects in the Republican-led Senate, though.

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Emerges. Some state medical marijuana growers are among a new coalition working on putting a marijuana legalization initiative before the voters in November. The proposed constitutional amendment would allow people 21 and over to buy, possess, and consume up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants. Existing medical marijuana businesses would get the first shot at the market, with state regulators deciding later on whether to issue additional licenses. Not all of the medical marijuana sector is behind the move, though.

Vermont Marijuana Sales Legalization Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. A bill to legalize and tax marijuana sales, Senate Bill 54, is now set for a House floor vote after winning the approval of the House Appropriations Committee on a 6-5 vote. The House floor vote should come later this week. The Senate passed the bill last year, but because of changes in the House, differences will have to be settled through a conference committee.

Sentencing Policy

Colorado Bill to Reverse Drug Defelonization Gets Hearing Thursday. The House Judiciary Committee will hear a bill Thursday that seeks to undo a law passed last year that changed drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors. House Bill 20-150 seeks to undo the sentencing reform before it takes effect next month.

International

Colombia Ends Crop Substitution Monitoring Program with UN. The Colombian government has ended its cooperation with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in monitoring coca crop substitution, a program the government of President Ivan Duque said it wanted to end. But ending the program would put the government out of compliance with its 2016 peace deal with leftist FARC guerrillas, so the government backed away from that. But refusing to monitor the program would block the UNODC from evaluating the effectiveness of planned forced coca eradication, recently announced by Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo and supported by the Trump administration. Previous UNODC reports have found that only a tiny 0.4% of voluntary eradicated crops had been replanted, while the number for forcibly eradicated crops was 80%, making the program quite ineffective.

Colombia Launches Military Push Against FARC Dissidents in National Parks. Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said Monday the military will step up an offensive against FARC dissidents who have again taken up arms and are overseeing the clearing of thousands of acres of land in national parks for coca cultivation. Trujillo claimed the FARC dissidents were forcing peasants to clear the land and "commit a massacre against nature."

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu Says His Government is Exploring Marijuana Legalization. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday his government is exploring legalizing recreational marijuana and is looking at Canada as a model. He said Justice Minister Amir Ohana "has begun work on the issue, and he will head a committee including professionals and Oren Leibovich, chairman of the [pro-legalization] Green Leaf Party, that will investigate importing the Canadian model for regulation of a legal market in Israel." Netanyahu, who is struggling to maintain power, has gone through two indecisive elections since last April and faces a third next month.

Chronicle AM: Decriminalize Nature Hits DC, Colombia Coca Eradication Fight, More... (1/10/20)

Vermont lawmakers begin a push to tax and regulate marijuana sales, the Decriminalize Nature movement arrives in the nation's capital, Colombia's president and governors disagree about aerial eradication of coca crops, and more.

Will Washington, DC, deprioritize magic mushrooms and other natural psychedelics? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Lawmakers Push for Legal Marijuana Sales. Lawmakers who want to pass a law to tax and regulate marijuana sales in the state held a news conference Thursday to urge the legislature to move forward on a bill that passed the Senate last year. It has not been acted on in the House, and proponents are hoping it will move in the next few months. Proponents are hopeful a bill can be acted upon with the next few months.

Law Enforcement

West Virginia Governor Creates Narcotics Intelligence Unit. Gov. Jim Justice (D) issued an executive order Thursday creating the West Virginia Narcotics Intelligence Unit to crack down on drug trafficking. The unit will be under the state Department of Military Affairs (!) and Public Safety's Intelligence Fusion Center. "Tonight I am ordering Secretary Jeff Sandy to form a new unit called a Narcotics Intelligence Unit -- a new unit at the Fusion Center -- it will be a strike force," Justice said. "I'm going to ask you for $1.9 million and I'm going to ask you to give us that to stop this terrible effort. That's all there is to it."

Psychedelics

DC Group Wants to Decriminalize Magic Mushrooms, Natural Psychedelics. A group calling itself Decriminalize Nature DC is beginning an effort to reduce penalties for the use, possession, and cultivation of magic mushrooms and other natural psychedelics. Members are working on a ballot initiative that would ask Metro police to make enforcement of drug laws against psychedelics the lowest law enforcement priority. The DC Board of Elections will weigh in next month on whether the language violates a congressional ban on easing any laws regarding Schedule I substances.

International

Colombia Says It Eradicated a Quarter Million Acres of Coca Crops. President Ivan Duque announced Tuesday that Colombia had eradicated 247,000 of coca fields in 2019. That's up from about 200,000 acres eradicated in 2018. "From now on we will without a doubt face the challenge of re-planting, but Colombia has clear its goal to reduce by 50% the area that is planted with illegal crops by the end of 2022 or 2023," Duque said in a televised statement. The government used manual eradication teams to destroy the crops but wants to return to the aerial spraying of herbicides, a practice ended in 2015.

Colombia Governors Reject Plans to Resume Aerial Spraying of Coca Crops. The governors of Colombia's coca growing provinces have come out against the government's plans to resume aerial spraying of coca crops. The governors of Antioquia, Narino, Cauca, Putumayo, and Norte de Santander said they supported alternative development and voluntary crop substitution and want President Duque to implement the 2016 peace deal with demobilized FARC guerrillas.

Chronicle AM: Joe Biden's Muddy Marijuana Policy Message, Peru Coca Eradication Gearing Up, More... (9/13/19)

Joe Biden muddies the waters on his marijuana policy, Copenhagen is moving toward a pilot progeram of legal marijuana sales, Peru prepares to go after coca crops in a lawless region, and more.

Joe Biden. Where, exactly, is he on marijuana policy? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan House Bill to Reschedule Marijuana Filed. Florida US Reps. Donna Shalala (D) and Matt Gaetz (R) filed a bill Thursday aimed at reducing barriers to marijuana research by moving it from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act. The Expanding Cannabis Research and Information Act is identical companion legislation to a bill filed by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) in July, S. 2400.

Joe Biden Says Marijuana Offenses Should Be Misdemeanors, But Without Jail Time. During Thursday night's Democratic presidential debate, former Vice President Joe Biden muddied the waters by saying marijuana offenses should be treated as misdemeanors, even though he has earlier called for decriminalization. Many other candidates are calling for legalization. Here's what Biden said: "Nobody who got in prison for marijuana, for example -- immediately upon being released, they shouldn't be in there." he said. "That should be a misdemeanor. They should be out and their record should be expunged. Every single right should be returned," he said. "When you finish your term in prison, you should be able to not only vote but have access to Pell grants, have access to be able to get housing, have access to be able to move along the way."

International

Denmark's Capital City Moves toward Legal Marijuana. The Copenhagen city council overwhelmingly supports a pilot program that would see marijuana sold legally across the city. The city has long been prepared to move down this path, but had been stymied by a conservative national government. But now, left-wing parties won an overall majority in elections this summer. The new health minister, Magnus Heunicke, doesn't endorse the scheme, but the city council is moving forward anyway. Under the proposed plan, a half dozen or so marijuana dispensaries would operate in the city.

Peru to Start Eradicating Coca Crops in the VRAEM. For the first time, Peruvian security forces will attempt to eradicate illicit coca plants in the country's largest coca growing area, the Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM), the government announced Thursday. Starting November 1, authorities will undertake a 45-day operation aiming to eradicate some 1,800 acres of coca crops, and they are vowing to intensify such operations next year. The region produced some 60,000 acres of coca in 2017, according to the UN. Although the region has been in a state of emergency for decades, recent governments have declined to send in coca eradication teams for fear of a violent backlash from coca farmers and remnants of the Shining Path guerrillas who have morphed into drug traffickers.

(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.)

Chronicle AM: Senate Committee to Take Up Pot Banking Bill, Berkeley Psychedelic Decrim Push, More... (7/17/19)

In a sign of marijuana's momentum, a Senate committee will take up a pot banking bill next week, Ohio backs away from barring drug felons from food stamp eligibility, the Berkeley city council takes up decriminalizing natural psychedelics, and more.

Berkeley could soon join neighboring Oakland in decriminalizing natural psychedelics. (Greenoid/Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Schedules Hearing on Marijuana Business Banking Access. The Republican-controlled Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee has scheduled a hearing next Tuesday to examine state-legal marijuana businesses' lack of access to banking services. A House marijuana banking bill has passed out of committee and now has 206 cosponsors. At the same time, though, DEA marijuana arrests increased by about 20%.

DEA Chopping Down Fewer Marijuana Plants but Making More Pot Busts. As more states legalize marijuana, the number of plants seized by the DEA is declining. The DEA reported seizing 2.8 million indoor and outdoor plants last year, a decline of 17% from 2017. At the same time, though, the DEA arrested about 20% more people for marijuana offenses. These increased arrests, however, are not occurring in the legal pot states, but in places such as Kansas and Louisiana.

Psychedelics

Berkeley City Council Committee Considers Decriminalizing Psychedelics Today. Decriminalize Nature, the same folks who successfully got neighboring Oakland to approve a psychedelic decriminalization ordinance, now has a similar ordinance under consideration in Berkeley. The city council's Public Safety Committee will take it up today and can decide to either hold it for further hearings or advance it to the full council.

Collateral Consequences

Ohio Scraps Plan to Ban Food Stamps for Drug Offenders. The state Department of Job and Family Services has abandoned a draft rule that would have denied food stamps to people who had been convicted of felony drug offenses. The department backed down after the ACLU of Ohio posted the draft rule on Twitter, along with a letter of opposition. Kimberly Hall, the department’s director, called it an error. "The draft rule to change Ohio’s policy on SNAP eligibility for those with felony drug offenses was submitted for review in error," she said in an emailed statement. "This error is being corrected. There will be no policy change."

Chronicle AM: No Cannabis Lounges for Oregon This Year; Drug Eradication Clashes in Peru, Mexico, More... (4/15/19)

A set of Michigan bills would do some post-legalization cleanup, a decriminalization bill advances in Missouri, an Oklahoma bill protecting patient rights is signed by the governor, drug crop growers clash with authorities in Mexico and Peru, and more.

Peruvian coca farmers clashed with police and eradicators last Friday, leaving two dead. (deamuseum.org)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Bills Would Cut Sentences for People Jailed for Possession. State Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) has filed a package of bills that would reduce prison, parole, and probation sentences for people jailed for marijuana possession. SB 262 through SB 265 are now before the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. "After the passage of Proposal 1, it's time we rethink drug sentencing laws in Michigan, so let's start with marijuana offenses, since those are no longer considered crimes under current law," Santana said.

Missouri Decriminalization Bill Advances. The House Special Committee on Criminal Justice last Thursday unanimously approved HB 1095, which would decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana. The measure would also make possession of less than 35 grams from a felony to a Class D misdemeanor. The measure now heads for a House floor vote.

Oregon Social Consumption Bill Dies. A bill that would have allowed marijuana consumption lounges, SB 639, was among hundreds of bills that died in the legislature after failing to move out of committee by April 9. The bill's failure is a blow to the state's legal marijuana industry, which is faced with chronic oversupply.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Governor Signs Patient Protection Bill. Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) has signed into law HB 2612, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act. The measure protects patients' rights to possess firearms under state law and allows the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority to hire its own investigators to probe alleged violations. The law will go into effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns, which will be at the end of May.

Washington Senate Approves Allowing Medical Marijuana in School. The state Senate on Saturday overwhelmingly approved SB 5442, which would allow parents to administer medical marijuana to their children at school, on the school bus, and at after-school activities. The bill limits the kind of marijuana used to infused products and extracts.

International

Mexico Poppy Farmers Detain Soldiers in Eradication Protest. Residents of a rural town in Guerrero state said they detained 40 soldiers last week to demand they halt opium poppy eradication efforts. The farmers said they set up roadblocks to prevent soldiers from leaving the region and called on the state and federal governments to provide assistance to local farmers so they aren't forced to grow opium. The farmers said the state government had promised in November that their poppy crops would not be destroyed and alternative means of support would be provided, but neither happened.

Peru Clashes Over Coca Eradication Leave Two Farmers Dead. Two coca growers were killed in clashes with a large eradication team last Friday. The team, which consisted of 72 police officers and158 civilian eradicators, had arrived in the area near the Bolivian border to destroy illegal coca fields, but reported that they were attacked by people wielding machetes and sticks as they set up camp. But the mayor of the town of San Gaban said witnesses told him police fired indiscriminately. "They were shooting right and left. That's why we have this bloodshed," the mayor said.

Trump's Terrible, No Good Plan to Gin Up Worldwide Drug War [FEATURE]

President Trump is in New York City for the United Nations General Assembly, but he's going to kick off his appearance with an unofficial event aimed at promoting a tougher global line on drugs. He will host a meeting on "The World Drug Problem," and countries that have agreed to sign on to a document circulated by the administration, "The Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem," will be rewarded by being invited to the event and given the opportunity to "participate in a group photo" with the president.

The president goes to the UN to try to push global drug policy backward. (Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore)
"The purpose of this event is to demonstrate international political will to enhance efforts to effectively address and counter the serious threats posed by the world drug problem," says an August 31 diplomatic note first reported by The Intercept.

In that note, the administration says it is already "collaborating" with a couple of dozen countries, but many of them are already proponents of harsh drug policy approaches. At least three of them -- China, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore -- are quick to resort to the death penalty for drug offenders, while others, such as Russia and the United Arab Emirates, are not exactly beacons of progressive drug policy. Yet other countries, including Costa Rica, India, and the United Kingdom, have signed on despite not hewing to draconian drug policy positions -- perhaps just to stay on the right side of the mercurial and vindictive Trump.

Unlike the UN drug policy process, which involves lengthy, finely detailed study, negotiation, and consensus-building among member states and civil society actors, Trump's Global Call is an attempt to impose the administration's hardline drug war positions on other countries. The cover letter accompanying the Global Call makes clear that the text of the document "is not open for discussion."

In Trump's Global Call to Action, states agree to develop "action plans" based on a "four-pronged strategy" of demand reduction, drug treatment, international cooperation, and cutting the supply of illicit drugs that reflects the global drug policy consensus of a decade or two ago -- not today.

Twenty years ago, the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs ended with a call for "a drug-free world." That chimera, of course, never happened, and the UN's political declaration in 2009 ratcheted down the rhetoric, calling merely for demand reduction, supply reduction, and international cooperation -- language strikingly reminiscent of Trump's current Global Call. But by the 2016 UNGASS on Drugs, the global community had moved beyond pure drug war theater, explicitly tying drug policy to human rights, access to health care, and sustainable development and implicitly endorsing harm reduction. The words "harm reduction" didn't make it into the final UNGASS documents, but their spirit was present.

Trump's Global Call also reverts to the sort of "eliminationist" language regarding drug cultivation that many countries have been moving away from. The strategy wants to "reduce" drug demand, but "cut off the supply" of drugs by "stopping" their production. Such language implies the resort to repressive eradication measures aimed at poor peasants in the developing world, a policy that has failed for decade after decade.

Drug policy advocates are raising the alarm over the administration's moves.

"This Global Call to Action is a unilateral move orchestrated by the US government that shows utter disregard for multilateralism and regular UN processes of negotiation and consensus. This is clearly an example of Trump attempting to wade into the international drug policy debate and create a splashy camera-ready opportunity, carefully orchestrated to create the appearance of support from dozens of other countries," said Hannah Hetzer, senior international policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance.

Holding the event at the UN provides a "veneer of multilateralism and global accord, but these trappings of multilateralism should not be mistaken for a new-found global drug policy consensus," the International Drug Policy Consortium declared. "Far from an effort at achieving mutual understanding and genuine consensus, it is an instance of heavy-handed US 'with us or against us' diplomacy."

The world need not leave global drug policy to the tender mercies of Donald Trump. In fact, it would be better off listening to one of the men who will address the Monday meeting: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. As president of Portugal, Guterres oversaw that country's groundbreaking decriminalization of drug use and possession in 2001.

Or it could listen to the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which consists of the former presidents and prime ministers of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, East Timor, Greece, Malawi, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal, and Switzerland. On Monday, the same day that Trump attempts to cement a repressive alliance, the commission is launching its new report, "Regulation: The Responsible Control of Drugs," which calls for reforming the prohibition-based global drug control system and examines how responsible regulation can take control of currently illegal drug markets.

"President Trump is the last person who should be defining the global debate on drug policy. From his support of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal drug war to his call for the death penalty for people who sell drugs, Trump has shown complete disdain for human rights and international law," warned Hetzer. "Governments should be very wary of signing on to this document and showing up for the photo op at Trump's event."

[Disclosure: Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of the organization that publishes this newsletter.]

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