Coca

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NC Black Man Killed By Cops Was Fleeing Drug Raid, CA Senate Approves Safe Injection Sites, More... (4/23/21)

US-Mexico law enforcement cooperation in battling Mexican drug cartels is at a standstill, a Montana marijuana legalization implementation bill is heading for House and Senate floor votes, and more.

Andrew Brown. Unarmed man killed by North Carolina police as he fled drug raid. (family photo)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Senate Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Implementation Bill. The Senate Select Committee on Marijuana Law has approved House Bill 701, which is aimed at implementing the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization law. The committee approved more than 30 amendments to the bill addressing multiple aspects of legalization implementation. The bill will now head to House and Senate floor votes.

Harm Reduction

California Senate Approves Safe Injection Site Bill. The state Senate on Thursday approved Senate Bill 57, sponsored by Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco). The bill would legalize safe injection sites as pilot programs in Los Angeles County, Oakland, and San Francisco. The bill now heads to the Assembly, and even if approved there and signed into law, it still faces federal hurdles too.

Law Enforcement

Unarmed Black Man Killed By North Carolina Cops Died Fleeing Drug Raid. Andrew Brown, the Elizabeth City, North Carolina, man killed by sheriff's deputies on Tuesday, died after being shot as he attempted to flee the scene in his vehicle. His killing by Pasquotank County deputies has sparked continuing protests, and the sheriff's office is being pressed to release deputies' body cam footage. Witnesses said deputies began shooting at Brown as he started to drive away from law enforcement. The sheriff said all three deputies on the scene fired their weapons.

US Investigations into Drug Cartels Paralyzed by Standoff with Mexico. Former and current officials in both the US and Mexico told Reuters that the fight against Mexican drug trafficking organizations has "ground to a halt" because of strained relations between the two counties. The freeze came after DEA agents arrested a Mexican general who was later released under pressure from Mexico, but that raid sparked the Mexican Congress to enact a new law requiring US drug agents to report their law enforcement contacts in the country to Mexican officials, whom the Americans regard as corrupt. As a result, investigators from both countries have paused their cooperation out of fear that cases could be compromised or informants killed.

International

Colombia Indigenous Community Attacked for Anti-Coca Stance. An indigenous community in the township of Caldono in Cauca province is under attack from armed leftist and rightist groups tied to the coca and cocaine trade. Last Tuesday, indigenous governor Sandra Liliana Peña Chocue, who opposed coca crops in indigenous lands, was assassinated, and last Thursday, at least 31 members of the community were wounded when one of the armed groups opened fire on them as they manually eradicated coca crops.

Record Support for MJ Legalization in Quinnipiac Poll, CA Psychedelic Decrim Bill Advances, More... (4/15/21)

A Minnesota marijuana legalization bill continues to move in the House, the acting drug czar pledges more funds for drug treatment and greater access to overdose reversal drugs, and more.

Coca and cocaine are on the mind of the Colombian government this week. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Quinnipiac Poll Has Record High Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Quinnipiac University poll has support for marijuana legalization at 69%, the highest number ever reported in the poll. That's an increase of 18 points since Quinnipiac first polled the question in 2012. There was majority support for legalization in every demographic group, even people over 65 (51%) and Republicans (62%).

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins 6th Committee Vote. A marijuana legalization bill, House File 600, won a sixth House committee vote Wednesday in the Judiciary Finance and Criminal Law Committee. It now goes to the State Government Elections and Finance Committee.

Drug Treatment

Acting Drug Czar Pledges to Expand Drug Treatment as Overdose Deaths Rise. Regina M. LaBelle, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) told House lawmakers Wednesday the administration is moving to muster significant federal resources to close gaps in drug treatment availability and make overdose reversing medications more available. She noted that the administration last week submitted its proposed budget to Congress, which included more than $10 billion for addiction programs, an increase of 57% from current funding levels.

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Wins Another Committee Vote. The Senate Health Committee voted 6-2 Wednesday to a bill to decriminalize the possession of a variety of psychedelics, Senate Bill 519. The legislation sponsored by Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

International

Colombia Government Issues Decree Setting the State for Resumption of Aerial Fumigation of Coca Crop. In a joint message this week, Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz and Defense Minister Diego Molano announced Presidential Decree 380, which sets guidelines for the "program for the eradication of illicit crops by aerial spraying." While ministers clarified that the framework "does not automatically reactivate the Program," it is another step in Conservative President Ivan Duque's long-desired effort to reactivate the program, which was halted by former President Juan Manuel Santos in 2015 after the World Health Organization (WHO) deemed it "probably carcinogenic to humans."

Colombia Congress Debates Bill to Regulate Coca and Cocaine. The Congress has begun debate on a bill that would regulate coca and its derivatives. The bill is from two opposition parties, the Green Alliance and the Indigenous and Social Alternative Movement (MAIS). "Ending the drug trafficking business implies turning drug trafficking into a bad business for the mafias, and this is achieved by regularizing the business by the State. Let's remove it from the logic of violence," said Liberal Senator Luis Fernando Velasco. The debate continues.

NM Legalization Bill Awaits Special Session, Biden Admin Supports Colombia Coca Spraying, More... (3/22/21)

Colorado's governor signs a marijuana socieal equity bill, Arizona's sheriffs and prosecutors don't want to lose civil asset forfeiture, Mexican cartel hitmen gun down 13 cops in Mexico state, and more.

Colombian coca growers face the threat of being sprayed with toxic glyphosate. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Governor Signs Marijuana Social Equity Bill. Gov. Jared Polis (D) last Friday signed into law SB21-111, which is designed to support social equity licensees in the industry. The bill creates a program in the Office of Economic Development that will provide loans and grants to such licensees and is initially funded with $4 million from the marijuana tax fund.

New Mexico Governor Calls Special Session After Clock Runs Out on Marijuana Legalization Effort. The state's legislative session ended Saturday without a marijuana legalization bill being approved, so Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) has announced that she will call a special session to deal with the issue, probably on March 31. "I believe legalization will be one of the largest job-creation programs in state history, driving entrepreneurial opportunities statewide for decades to come," she said. "I look forward to continuing to work with lawmakers to get the job done right." The bill that is still alive, House Bill12, passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday, but never got a floor vote before the session ended.

New York Groups Call on Legislature to Pass Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act. More than 70 groups representing labor unions, civil rights, immigration reform, faith-based organizers, criminal justice and police reformers, parents, treatment providers, drug reform groups, legal advocates and other organizations from across the state of New York sent a letter Monday to Albany's legislative leaders urging the swift passage of the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA) to "ensure legalization has justice, reinvestment, and health and social equity at the core." The MRTA (S.854/A.1248) would set a new national model by focusing benefits on those who have been harmed by prohibition, according to the groups.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Sheriffs, Prosecutors Urge Governor, Lawmakers to Amend Bill That Ends Civil Asset Forfeiture, Last Friday, nearly two dozen sheriffs and county attorneys urged Gov. Doug Ducey (R) and the state Senate to amend HB 2810 to remove the requirement that a criminal conviction be obtained before seizing currency. The bill overwhelmingly passed by the House bars civil asset forfeiture, but the lawmen want the ban to apply only to seizures of property, not currency. They claim the bill would benefit Mexican drug cartels. The bill must still pass the Senate Rules Committee before heading for a floor vote.

Foreign Policy

Biden Administration Is Supporting Renewed Spraying of Herbicides to Kill Off Colombia's Coca Crop. Earlier this month, the Biden administration made clear that it supports Colombian President Ivan Duque in his bid to restart the spraying of toxic glyphosate on coca crops. In the administration's first annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, released March 2, the position was made crystal clear: "The government of Colombia has committed to restarting its aerial coca eradication program, which would be a most welcome development." The World Health Organization warned in 2015 that glyphosate damages the environment and might be carcinogenic.

International

Mexico Cartels Kill 13 Police in State of Mexico Ambush. A police convoy in the central state of Mexico was attacked by presumed cartel gunmen last Thursday, leaving 13 law enforcement officers dead. "The convoy was carrying out patrols in the region, precisely to fight the criminal groups that operate in the area," said Rodrigo Martinez Celis, head of the state Public Safety Department. It is the deadliest attack on Mexican police since October 2019, when 14 officers were killed in an ambush in the western state of Michoacan.

VA Lawmakers Approve Legalization... Three Years from Now, Colombia Goes for More Drug War Militarization, More... (3/1/21)

New Mexico lawmakers work to shrink four marijuana legalization bills down to one, Pennsylvania's governor pardons dozens more marijuana offenders, and more.

Virginia State House (Creative Commons)
New Mexico Legislators Agree to Senate Committee Request to Consolidate Marijuana Legalization Bills. The Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee on Saturday asked the sponsors of four competing marijuana legalization bills to get together this week and come up with one bill for the committee to consider and vote on this coming Saturday. That would leave legislators with just two weeks to get to a Senate floor vote before the session ends on March 20.

Pennsylvania Governor Grants 69 More Marijuana Pardons. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Monday announced that he had granted expedited pardons to 69 low-level marijuana offenders, bring his total of pot pardons to 95. He also pardoned another 241 non-marijuana offenders. The move comes as Wolf calls for marijuana legalization and as a bipartisan bill is now before the legislature.

Virginia Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization… Three Years from Now. The House and Senate reached a deal on marijuana legalization Saturday, but in an attenuated way. The measure would not actually legalize marijuana until 2024 and would require the legislature to vote on parts of the bill again next year, both positions that have legalization advocates complaining loudly. The need for additional votes next year exposes legalization to the chance it could depend on Republican majorities in the House and/or Senate or a new Republican governor who would not be as supportive. The bill now goes to Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who supports legalization, and now some Democrats are calling on him to amend the bill and send a more complete measure to the statehouse later this year.

Washington, DC, Mayor Filed Bill to Legalize Marijuana Sales. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced Friday that she had filed a bill to legalize pot shops in the nation's capital. DC voters approved marijuana legalization in 2014, but have been blocked from setting up a legal, regulated system of marijuana commerce because federal budget provisions bar the District from using funds to regulate and tax still federally illegal marijuana. With Democrats in control of Congress now, advocates that budget rider will now be killed, clearing the way for legal sales. The measure is B24-0114, the Safe Cannabis Sales Act of 2021.

Sentencing Policy

Virginia Legislative Bid to End Mandatory Minimum Sentences Dies. Although both chambers passed bills doing away with mandatory minimum sentencing --HB 2331to end mandatory minimums for drug offenses and SB 1443to end them for all offenses -- House and Senate negotiators failed to reach a compromise, and the bills died as the session ended Saturday.

International

Colombia Launches New Elite Military Unit to Target Coca Crops, Drug Trafficking, Armed Groups. The Colombian government announced last Friday it had launched a new, elite military unit to heighten the fight against coca cultivation, drug trafficking, and the armed groups who benefit from prohibited activities. "The unit was born to hit, repress, and break down the structures of drug trafficking and transnational threats linked to illegal mining, the trafficking of wildlife and people, and -- of course -- any transnational form of terrorism," President Ivan Duque said. The new unit of some 7,000 soldiers will be deployed to Catatumbo region bordering Venezuela and the coca-producing provinces of Cauca and Putamayo.

NJ AG Ends Most Marijuana Arrests & Prosecutions, Mexico Coca Plantation Discovered, More... (2/24/21)

A North Dakota marijuana legalization bill passes the House, Nebraska medical marijuana advocates demand action from the legislature, and more.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has ordered an end to most marijuana arrests and prosecutions in the state. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Second House Committee Vote. The House Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee voted to approve a marijuana legalization bill, House File 600, on a 7-5 vote. That's the second committee to approve the bill in the past week. It now heads for a third vote in the House Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee.

New Jersey Attorney General Orders End to Marijuana Possession, Small-Time Distribution Arrests. In the wake of Governor Phil Murphy's (D) signing into law three bills that set up a legal marijuana marketplace, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Monday ordered police to immediately stop arresting people for possessing less than six ounces of weed or distributing up to an ounce. He also ordered prosecutors to immediately dismiss charges for any pending marijuana offense that is no longer illegal under state law. Although Grewal had issued guidance urging an end to marijuana arrests and prosecutions after voters approved a legalization referendum in November, police still made 6,000 pot arrests since then. Now, no more.

North Dakota House Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The House voted Tuesday to approve a marijuana legalization bill, HB 1420. Some lawmakers said they voted to approve the bill because they feared if they didn't, voters would do it themselves through the initiative process. The bill now heads to the Senate. It would allow adults to buy up to 20 grams every two weeks, with purchases tracked. There is no provision to allow home cultivation.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Advocates Rally to Urge Support for Bill. Nebraska Families for Medical Cannabis held a rally at the statehouse Tuesday to urge legislators to pass a medical marijuana bill, LB 474. It is sponsored by Senator Anna Wishart (D-Lincoln), who was one of the leaders of last year's initiative that qualified for the ballot only to be disqualified by the state Supreme Court.

South Carolina Poll Has Overwhelming Support for Medical Marijuana. As legislators ponder whether to approve a medical marijuana bill this year, a new poll finds overwhelming support for it. The survey released by the advocacy groups SC Compassionate Care Alliance and Compassionate SC had support at 72%, with just 15% opposed.

International

Mexican Soldiers Discover 10-Acre Coca Crop in Guerrero. The Mexican military announced Monday it had discovered and destroyed a 10-acre coca crop growing in the southwestern state Guerrero. They also found a cocaine manufacturing lab nearby. It's the first time a coca crop has been found in the state, which is known for marijuana and opium poppy cultivation, but it's not the first time coca has been discovered being grown in Mexico. The army uncovered a coca field in the southern state of Chiapas in 2014.

DC Decriminalizes Drug Paraphernalia; Pot Possession, Cultivation Now Legal in MT, More... (1/4/21)

Illinois has expunged nearly half a million marijuana arrests years ahead of schedule, a New Mexico court rules that people under correctional control can use medical marijuana, and more.

Drug parapernalia is now decriminalized in the District of Columbia. (Creeative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Expunges Nearly Half a Million Marijuana Arrest Records Four Years Ahead of Schedule. State officials announced last Thursday that state police had expunged some 492,129 marijuana possession arrest records, four years ahead of a deadline set by the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, which legalized marijuana in the state. Governor J.B. Pritzker also announce another 9,219 pardons for marijuana possession, bringing the total number of pot pardon's he has issued to 20,000. "Statewide, Illinoisans hold hundreds of thousands low-level cannabis-related records, a burden disproportionately shouldered by communities of color," Pritzker said. "We will never be able to fully remedy the depth of that damage. But we can govern with the courage to admit the mistakes of our past—and the decency to set a better path forward."

Montana Marijuana Legalization Now in Effect. As of New Year's Day, the marijuana-legalizing Initiative 190 has gone into effect. It is now legal for adults 21 and over to use and possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to four plants for personal use. The state is now working on setting up a system of licensed, taxed, and regulated marijuana commerce.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Court Rules Inmates Can Have Access to Medical Marijuana. A district court judge in Albuquerque ruled last week that inmates at the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center who are qualifying medical marijuana patients can use the substance while under correctional control. It is unclear whether other state and local jails would voluntarily comply with the ruling, but it has set a precedent for other state courts. The ruling came in the case of man serving a 90-day house arrest sentence.

Asset Forfeiture

Institute for Justice Issues New Edition of Asset Forfeiture Report. The libertarian-leaning Institute for Justice has released the third edition of its report on asset forfeiture laws in the states, "Policing for Profit." The report details each state's laws around civil asset forfeiture. The Institute handed out only one "A" grade in this edition. That went to New Mexico, which banned civil asset forfeiture in 2015.

Paraphernalia

Washington, DC, Decriminalizes the Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has signed into law B54, the Opioid Overdose Prevention Act of 2019. The bill decriminalizes the possession of drug paraphernalia and will also allow harm reduction and community groups to distribute harm reduction supplies that were previously criminalized under DC law.

International

Colombia Says It Manually Eradicated the Most Coca in a Decade. Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo announced last week that Colombia had eradicated 325,000 acres of coca crops, the highest figure in a decade. Eradicators had uprooted about 240,000 acres in 2019 and 150,000 acres in 2018. "These 130,000 hectares eradicated translate into an affectation of about US$301 million to drug trafficking organizations, if the average price of a hectare of coca is taken as a reference, and represents about 115,440 kilos of cocaine that were no longer produced," Trujillo said as he watched an eradication operation in the company of US Ambassador Phillip Goldberg. The Trump administration has pressed Colombia to do more to reduce coca cultivation and cocaine production.

Year from Hell II: The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2020 [FEATURE]

As we wave an eager goodbye to 2020 in the rearview mirror, it's time to assess the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to drug policy and drug reform at the international level. As in other realms of human behavior, the coronavirus pandemic is inescapable, but even as the pandemic raged, drug policy developments kept happening. Here are the biggest world drug policy stories of 2020:

The Coronavirus Pandemic and the World of Drugs

As with virtually every other aspect of human affairs, the year's deadly coronavirus pandemic impacted the world of drugs, from disruptions of drug markets and anti-drug policing to drug trafficking groups as social distancing enforcers, fallout on efforts to reform drug policies, and beyond.

Early on, there were reports that Mexican drug traffickers were raising wholesale meth and fentanyl prices because of disruptions in the precursor chemical supply, and that pandemic lockdowns had disrupted the cocaine supply chain, driving down the farmgate price for coca and endangering the livelihoods of nearly a quarter-million coca-producing families in the Andes.

But some things couldn't be disrupted: Just a day after closing its famous cannabis cafes in response to the pandemic, the Dutch reopened them as the government was confronted with long lines of people queuing up to score after the ban was initially announced. In France, the price of hashish nearly doubled in a week as increased border controls due to the pandemic put the squeeze on. By midyear, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported pandemic-related border closures, lockdowns, and flight shortages were making drugs more expensive and difficult to obtain around the world.

Those same drug organizations struggling with the pandemic took on roles normally assumed by government in some countries. In Mexico, the Gulf Cartel and Los Viagras handed out food to poor families in Tamaulipas and the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel did the same in Guadalajara, spurring President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to acknowledge their efforts and implore them to knock it off and just stay home. Instead, the Sinaloa Cartel locked down the city of Culiacan, its home base, and patrolled the streets in heavily armed convoys to enforce a curfew. In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro drug gangs enforced social distancing and handed out cash and medications as the government of rightist authoritarian populist President Jair Bolsonaro was largely absent and in denial about coronavirus. In Colombia, with the government missing in action, drug gangs and armed groups enforced lockdown orders, even killing people who didn't comply, according to Human Rights Watch.

Some countries took positive steps to ameliorate these effects of the pandemic. In Great Britain, the government agreed to hand out methadone without a prescription to those already receiving it and shortly later began allowing monthly buprenorphine injections for heroin addicts. In Canada, British Columbia early on moved to increase a "safe supply" of drugs that registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses to prescribe, make more medications available, and expand eligibility to people who are at risk of overdose, including those who may not necessarily be diagnosed with a substance use disorder. The province followed that move by lowering barriers to prescription medications, increasing the supply of opiate maintenance drugs and even dispensing some of them via a unique vending machine. By providing a safe supply of legal drug alternatives, the province hoped to lower a sudden spike in drug overdose deaths that coincided with the coronavirus outbreak in Vancouver.

Not everybody let a measly little coronavirus get in the way of their drug war. In Colombia, President Ivan Duque ordered a nationwide lockdown in March, but exempted coca eradicators and launched a major offensive against small producer coca farms. And Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte let his drug war rage on in the midst of the pandemic despite imposing a national partial lockdown in March. At least nine people were killed by unknown gunmen in Cebu Province alone. "Reports of drug-related killings continuing amid the lockdown order are deeply concerning, but not surprising," said Rachel Chhoa-Howard of Amnesty International. "The climate of impunity in the Philippines is so entrenched that police and others remain free to kill without consequence." In September Human Rights Watch noted the pace of acknowledged drug war killings by police had doubled. Duterte has also threatened to have the police and military shoot people who violate quarantine.

The coronavirus also wreaked havoc with drug reform initiative signature gathering campaigns in the US, preventing several marijuana legalization and one drug decriminalization initiative from qualifying for the ballot this year, and played a role in delaying marijuana legalization in Mexico when its Senate shut down in the spring because of the pandemic.

UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs Votes to Remove Cannabis from Most Restrictive Drug Schedule

In an historic move on December 2, the 53 member states of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the UN body charged with setting drug policy, voted to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the United Nations' drug classification system as they met in Vienna. Cannabis was both a Schedule I and a Schedule IV drug under the international drug treaties. Schedule I includes "substances that are highly addictive and liable to abuse or easily convertible into those (e.g. opium, heroin, cocaine, coca leaf"), while Schedule IV includes Schedule I drugs with "particularly dangerous properties and little or no therapeutic value" (e.g. heroin, carfentanil).

The vote removing cannabis from Schedule IV means the global anti-drug bureaucracy now recognizes the therapeutic value of cannabis and no longer considers it "particularly liable to abuse and to produce ill effects." With medical marijuana legal in dozens of countries in; one form or another, the ever-increasing mountain of evidence supporting the therapeutic uses of cannabis, not to mention outright legalization in 15 American states Canada and Uruguay, with Mexico about to come on board, this decision by the CND is long past due, but nonetheless welcome.

The UN Common Position on Drug Policy Gains Traction

Change at the United Nations comes at a glacial pace, but it can and does come. The shift away from punitive, law enforcement-heavy approaches to drug use has been building for years and picked up steam at the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs in 2016 and advanced further with the adoption of the UN Common Position on Drug Policy in 2018.

That approach, which seeks to get all the UN agencies involved in drug policy, public health, and human rights on the same page, explicitly calls for the decriminalization of drug use and possession for personal use. Among the position's directions for action is the following: "To promote alternatives to conviction and punishment in appropriate cases, including the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use, and to promote the principle of proportionality, to address prison overcrowding and overincarceration by people accused of drug crimes, to support implementation of effective criminal justice responses that ensure legal guarantees and due process safeguards pertaining to criminal justice proceedings and ensure timely access to legal aid and the right to a fair trial, and to support practical measures to prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and torture."

At least 30 countries have instituted some form of drug decriminalization (although in many it is only marijuana that has been decriminalized), and the Common Position is providing breathing space for others that may be inclined to take the plunge. In 2020, the US state of Oregon broke ground by becoming the first state to decriminalize the use and possession of all drugs, and just a few hundred miles to the north and across the Canadian border, the city council of Vancouver, British Columbia, voted to decriminalize and seek an exemption from the federal government to do so.

Decriminalization could also be around the corner in Norway, where a proposal first bruited in 2017 could pass some time next year. And Ghana (see below) has also effectively decriminalized drug use and possession. With a more consistent message from the UN, which the Common Position represents, we can expect further progress on this front in years to come.

The Philippine Drug War Faces Increasing Pressure

Four years into the government of Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines remains embroiled in a bloody war on drug users and sellers, but is facing increasing pressure from human rights groups, domestic critics, and international institutions over mass killings that are believed to now total more than 30,000. In a June report, the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights said that tens of thousands of people had been killed in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drug users and sellers amid "near impunity" for police and the incitement of violence by top officials. The report said that rhetoric may have been interpreted as "permission to kill."

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for independent investigations into the killings and said her office was ready to help credible domestic Philippine or international efforts to establish accountability. Two months later, during the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council, Bachelet called for an end to the policies and rhetoric that led to abuse and killings. She acknowledged some small steps taken by the Duterte government but warned "there is clearly an urgent need to revoke the policies that continue to result in killings and other human rights violations, to bring to justice the perpetrators, and to halt the use of rhetoric inciting violence against people who use or sell drugs."

In October, Duterte said he accepted responsibility for drug war killings, but only those acknowledged by police, not the thousands committed by shadowy vigilantes. That same month, global civil society groups including StoptheDrugWar.org (the publisher of this newsletter) and Movement for a Free Philippines launched the Stand for Human Rights and Democracy campaign to keep the pressure on. The campaign launch included an "Autocrat Fair" demonstration outside Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC; and an accompanying video, "Trump and Duterte -- Allies in Violence." An event organized by StoptheDrugWar.org on December 22 discussed the role of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The pressure on the Duterte government only heightened at year's end, when the ICC's Office of the Prosecutor issued a report saying there was "reasonable basis to believe" Filipino forces committed crimes against humanity in Duterte's drug war. That leaves one stage left in the Office's "preliminary examination," admissibility. For the ICC to have jurisdiction, prosecutors must show that the Philippine justice system lacks a legitimate or capable response to the killings. Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has promised a decision will be by mid-2021, when her term ends, over whether to seek authorization from the court to open a formal investigation. She has also pointedly warned that the court's resources fall badly short of what's needed to carry out their mission, which affects how cases are prioritized, and may affect whether the new prosecutor initiates cases.

Even as Drug War Violence Continues Unabated, Mexico is About to Become the World's Largest Legal Marijuana Market

There is no end in sight to Mexico's bloody drug wars. The year began with the announcement that 2019 was the most murderous year in recent history, with some 35,588 recorded homicide victims. As the year ends, 2020 appears on track to equal or surpass that toll, with the country registering about 3,000 murders a month.

As mass killing after mass killing took place throughout the year, the number of dead wasn't the only thing rising either. In January, the government announced that the number of "disappeared" people in the country was around 61,000, up from an estimated 40,000 in mid-2019. By July, the number of those officially missing had risen to 73,201 as prohibition-related violence ripped through the country.

While President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador came into office in 2018 critical of the role of the military in the drug war, and with a plan to reduce crime and violence by focusing on their root causes, in May he renewed orders keeping the military on the streets for another four years. "His security strategy is not working and that is why he has had to order with this decree for the Armed Forces to support public security," security specialist Juan Ibarrola told the Milenio newspaper at the time.

The following month, Lopez Obrador signaled that perhaps it wasn't security strategy that wasn't working, but drug prohibition. He released a plan to decriminalize drugs, and urged the US to do the same. Mexico's current "prohibitionist strategy is unsustainable," the plan said.

As the drug war chugged along, US-Mexico relations took a hit in October, when DEA agents arrested Mexico's former defense minister in Los Angeles on drug and money laundering charges. Loud protests from Mexico eventually resulted in his release, but in December, Mexican lawmakers chafing at US heavy-handedness voted to restrict the activities of foreign agents in the country.

Even as the drug wars rage, there is significant progress on another drug policy track. As the year comes to an end, Mexico is one vote in the Chamber of Deputies away from legalizing marijuana. The government-supported legalization bill, crafted in response to a ruling from the country's Supreme Court that said marijuana prohibition must end, passed the Senate in November after delays caused by political infighting and shutdowns due to the coronavirus.

Under an order from the Supreme Court, the Congress had until December 15 to act, but the Chamber of Deputies delayed the vote, saying it needed more time to study the bill, and the Supreme Court agreed to grant one more extension, giving the Chamber of Deputies until the end of the next legislative session in April to get the job done. President Lopez Obrador downplayed the delay, calling it a matter of "form not substance." And Mexico is waiting to inhale.

Bolivia display at the 2008 Commission on Narcotic Drugs
Bolivia Returns the Coca-Friendly Movement to Socialism to Power

Long-time Bolivian leader Evo Morales, a former coca growers union leader who won the presidency in 2005 and was reelected twice, was forced from office and fled the country after extended protests in the wake of disputed elections in November 2019. The self-appointed interim right-wing government worked to suppress Morales' Movement to Socialism and harassed harassed coca producers in the name of the war on drugs.

The coca growers stood firm, however mobilizing to blockade roads to protest delays in promised elections. When those elections finally came in October, voters returned the MAS to power, electing Morales' former economics minister, Luis Arce, without the need for a runoff election.

Arce said that while he has no problem with the United States, he will maintain Morales' coca policy, under which legal coca cultivation was allowed, and that he wants to expand the country's industrial coca production.

Colombia, Coca, Cocaine, and Conflict

Four years after the truce between the Colombian government and the leftist rebels of the FARC was supposed to bring peace to the country, peace remains elusive as the rightist government of President Ivan Duque continues to wage war against other leftist rebels, drug traffickers, and coca-growing peasants.

Under pressure from the US, the Duque government began the year by moving to resume the aerial spraying of coca fields. This plan was rejected by state governors, who said they supported alternative development and voluntary crop substitution and wanted President Duque to actually implement the 2016 peace accords.

Instead, the government attempted to pull out of a crop substitution monitoring program with the UN, preventing a pending evaluation of the effectiveness of planned forced coca eradication, although it later backtracked. That prompted coca farmers to call "bullshit" on Duque's duplicity, not only around crop substitution and eradication, but on the government's efforts to downplay a campaign of assassination against coca substitution leaders.

Indeed, human rights remained a major concern throughout the year, as a UN peace mission condemned a spike in massacres in August, and a month later, the International Crisis Group demanded the government stop the killing of activists. The group said the government must prioritize communities' safety over military operations against armed groups and coca eradication efforts. Human rights were no concern for US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, who promised Colombia more anti-drug aid the following month.

On another track, efforts to reform the country's drug laws continue. Bills to legalize marijuana were defeated late in the year, as right-wing factions aligned with Duque killed them. A bill to legalize cocaine was introduced in December, with cosponsor Senator Ivan Marulanda saying the bill would allow a legal cocaine supply for Colombian cocaine users -- use and possession is legal in Colombia -- and that the government could buy up the entire coca crop.

The year ended as it began, with the government still talking about plans to restart aerial fumigation even it claimed it would meet its coca eradication goal. Meanwhile, coca and cocaine production remain at world-leading levels.

Progress in Africa

Attitudes towards drugs and drug users are changing in Africa, and 2020 saw significant advances. It was in July 2019 that health, drug control and population ministers from member states of the African Union met in Cairo to forge a continental action plan for adopting more balanced policies toward drug use.

At that meeting, the Union's Department for Social Affairs called on member states to adopt master plans for drug policy by 2023. Such plans create a national framework for deciding which agencies should deal with illicit drug use in a way that deals with both drug supplies and demand reduction and ensure that not just law enforcement but also treatment and rehabilitation issues are addressed.

Zimbabwe had begun work on its own master plan years earlier -- back in 1999 -- but that effort had stalled until 2016 when, thanks to a civil society group, the Zimbabwean Civil Liberties and Drug Network (ZCLDN), the effort was reignited. The country hasn't passed a reformist master plan yet, but thanks to years of organizing and alliance-building, reform is coming.

In July, ZCLDN and regional ally groups worked with the Ministry of Health and Child Care to draft treatment and rehabilitation guidelines that formally incorporated harm reduction practices, a big step forward. In September, the group brought together civil society groups and the government's inter-ministerial committee charged with creating the master plan, helping to lay the groundwork for the plan to be adopted early in 2021. But first, it has to be approved by the cabinet, the attorney general's office, and then parliament. The work was not finished in 2020, but it is well underway.

Meanwhile in West Africa, Ghana actually passed a major drug reform law, the Narcotics Control Commission bill, in March. It only took five years from the time the bill was first introduced. Drafted with the intent of treating drug use as a public health issue, the law effectively decriminalizes drug possession, replacing prison terms of up to ten years with fines of roughly US $250 to $1,000. The new law also clears the way for the implementation of harm reduction services, which had previously been outlawed. And it allows for the production of low-THC cannabis products, such as industrial hemp and CBD.

The colonial legacy weighs heavy on Africa, but when it comes to drug policy, African nations are beginning to forge their own, more humane paths.

Thanks to a Plant, Afghanistan Becomes a Meth Producer

For years now, Afghanistan has been the world's number one supplier of opium poppies and the heroin derived from it, accounting for about 90% of global production. Now the war-torn country is diversifying, becoming a big-time player in the methamphetamine trade thanks to a plant common in the country and low-tech techniques for using it to make meth.

That plant is ephedra, from which meth's key ingredient -- ephedrine -- is created, and in a November report, the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) warned that while its findings were provisional, "the data reported here on the potential scale of ephedrine and methamphetamine production emanating from this remote corner of Afghanistan, the income it generates and the speed at which it has emerged are both surprising and worrying." The report cited seizures of Afghan meth in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Australia, and tax revenues in the millions for the Taliban.

New Zealand Narrowly Rejects Marijuana Legalization

New Zealand had a chance to become the next country to legalize marijuana but rejected it. Early on, polling suggested that a referendum to legalize marijuana faced an uphill battle, and as early election results came in in October, the polls proved accurate, with the referendum faltering with only 46% of the vote. In the final tally, the margin narrowed, but the referendum still lost narrowly, garnering 48% of votes.

Kiwis were not ready to become the second commonwealth country to legalize marijuana, after Canada, On the other hand, voters approved a referendum to allow voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill by a margin of two-to-one.

MORE Act Heads for House Vote, San Francisco Bans Apartment Cigarettes -- But Not Pot-Smoking, More... (12/3/20)

Tomorrow will be an historic day for marijuana policy, New Jersey lawmakers struggle over legal marijuana and decriminalization, Peru and the US diverge on the size of last year's coca crop, and more.

There will be no tobacco smoking allowed in apartment buildings in San Francisco. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

MORE Act Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. The House Rules Committee on Wednesday approved the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3884), clearing the way for a House floor vote on Friday. The committee also approved a rule that the bill will be closed to amendments on the floor. Debate on the bill began today.

New Jersey Lawmakers Want to Put Marijuana On The Ballot Again, to Steer Revenue to People Hurt By Drug War. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) and three other Democratic senators are promoting a constitutional amendment that would ensure that marijuana tax revenues would go to "impact zones," or communities harmed by the war on drugs. At the same time, lawmakers are removing a psychedelic mushroom provision from the pending decriminalization bill to remove one roadblock to its passage. With the removal of the mushroom provision, the bill is expected to pass by month's end.

San Francisco Bans Cigarette Smoking in Apartment Building but Allows Pot Smoking. The city's Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 on Tuesday to ban tobacco smoking from apartment buildings with three or more units but relented on its plan to ban marijuana smoking in the face of strong opposition. Activists pointed out that banning pot-smoking in apartments would remove their only legal place to smoke since pot smoking is banned in public places. The ban also includes e-cigarettes.

International

Peru Reports Lower Growth of Coca Cultivation Than US Did. The anti-drug agency DEVIDA said coca cultivation increased only 1% last year to about 135,000 acres and was a slowdown from higher growth the previous year. That's dramatically lower than what the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) reported in June. ONDCP reported that cultivation had increased by 38% to 180,000 acres. DEVIDA said 70% of the country's production was in the VRAEM (Valleys of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers) in the south-central part of the country.

House to Vote on Marijuana Legalization Bill This Week, Mexico Senate OKS Legal Pot, More... (11/30/20)

Marijuana legalization is on the move in Washington, DC, and Mexico City, Washington state activists push for therapeutic psilocbyin and broader drug decriminalization, British police chiefs call for expanding a heroin maintenance pilot program, and more.

Marijuana legalization has passed the Mexican Senate, and the Chamber of Deputies should soon follow suit. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House to Vote on Marijuana Legalization Bill This Week. House Majority Leader Stony Hoyer (D-MD) said late last week that a marijuana legalization bill, the MORE ACT (HR 3884) would receive a House floor vote this week. First, though, it will go before the House Rules Committee. A floor vote should come between Wednesday and Friday.

Drug Policy

Washington State to See Push for Psychedelics, Drug Decriminalization. In the wake of victories for therapeutic psilocybin and drug decriminalization in Oregon this year, drug reformers in neighboring Washington are now looking to push similar reforms there. One push is for therapeutic psilocybin for end-of-life patients using existing administrative mechanism, while a second is aiming at a statewide drug decriminalization initiative that also legalizes psilocybin for broader therapeutic purposes. Meanwhile, advocates plan on lobbying the legislature for drug decriminalization this year, too.

International

British Police Chiefs Call for Expansion of Heroin-Assisted Treatment Program. The National Police Chiefs Council is calling for heroin-assisted treatment to be rolled out "across the country" after a year-old pilot program reported "very promising" results. Jason Harwin, the drug policy lead for the group, said his colleagues should ponder following that lead. We should look at expanding it across the rest of the country," Harwin. "Not in every place, not everywhere needs it. But where clearly there’s a heroin problem and particularly drug-related deaths and an impact on criminality and organized crime, it’s clearly a solution that actually helps "individuals and the wider communities as well."

Colombia Defense Minister Says Aerial Fumigation of Coca Crops Must Restart. Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said last Friday that the country needed to restart spraying coca crops with the herbicide glyphosate in order to shrink cocaine production and shrink the income of illegal. "There is no doubt at all. Colombia needs to reestablish aspersion, aerial fumigation with glyphosate for national security reasons," Holmes Trujillo said. "Logically it needs to be reestablished with assurances for health and the environment." Doing so would cut off resources "for those who commit massacres and kill social leaders," he added.

Mexican Senate Votes to Legalize Marijuana. The Senate overwhelmingly approved a marijuana legalization bill last Thursday. The bill now goes to the Chamber of Deputies where it is also expected to pass. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has not publicly backed the bill, but his ruling MORENA Party, which supports the bill, holds majorities in both chambers. Under the bill, adults could possess up to an ounce and grow up to four plants at home, while a system of taxed and regulated legal sales would also be set up.

San Francisco Ponders Smoking and Vaping Ban for Tobacco and Marijuana, Mexico Mass Grave Has 113 Bodies, More... (11/24/20)

Fort Worth, Texas, prosecutors will dismiss minor marijuana charges with one big caveat, Colombia's defense minister says coca eradication is on track, and more.

Colombian coca field (DEA Museum)
Marijuana Policy

Fort Worth to Dismiss Small Time Pot Cases -- If People Pass Three Drug Tests in Three Months. The Tarrant County (Fort Worth) Criminal District Attorney's Office has announced it will dismiss minor marijuana possession cases, but only if the defendant passes three drug tests in three months. Possession of less than two ounces of marijuana is the most common criminal charge in the county. "One of the goals of the criminal justice system is rehabilitation; sobriety is the beginning of that rehabilitation, "Tarrant County Criminal DA Sharen Wilson said. "When you bring proof of three months of sobriety -- 90 days -- the charge will be dismissed."

San Francisco Bid to Ban Smoking, Including Marijuana, in Apartment Buildings Draws Opposition. City Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee has introduced a measure that would bar people from smoking or vaping tobacco and marijuana in their apartments. The measure would apply to buildings with at least three units. But the move is drawing opposition from progressive LGBTQ groups and medical and recreational marijuana advocates. Yee's plan allows for medical marijuana, but that isn't soothing advocates. A vote before the full board is set for December 1.

International

Colombian Defense Minister Says County Will Meet 2020 Coca Eradication Target. Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said Monday that the country will meet its 2020 coca eradication target. The government had set a target of 320,000 acres eradicated and has so far eradicated about 300,000 acres. That's an increase of 30% over last year. The program includes aerial eradication operations involving the probably poisonous substance herbicide glyphosate, and is unlikely to make more than a short-term dent in cultivation.

Mass Grave With At Least 113 Bodies Found in Mexico's Jalisco State. A mass grave in Jalisco state that was discovered on October 2 has now yielded at least 113 bodies. Jalisco is one of the most violent drug cartel battlegrounds in the country and is the home of the most bodies found in clandestine mass graves since 2006, according to a recent government report.

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