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NY Poll Has Strong Majority for Marijuana Legalization, Bolivia's New President Will Industrialize Coca, More... (10/27/20)

Both New Yorkers and Czechs are ready to legalize marijuana, Bolivia's new president wants you to use coca toothpaste, and more.

Both Czechs and New Yorkers are ready to legalize marijuana, polls find. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Poll Finds New Yorkers Ready to Legalize Marijuana. A new Spectrum News/Ipsos poll finds that New Yorkers are ready to legalize marijuana. The poll, which comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) touts legalization as a revenue generator, had 61% of respondents saying they favored legalization.

Drug Testing

Washington Court Upholds Jury Verdict that Directly Observed Urine Collections Did Not Invade Employee's Privacy. A state appellate court has upheld a jury verdict that an employer's requirement that urine collection be directly observed does not invade the employee's privacy. The employee refused the test, arguing that the employer failed to accommodate her PTSD in violation of a state anti-discrimination law, but failed in that argument. The employee also arguing that by sending him home until he agreed to a urine test he had been effectively fired, or "constructively discharged, but did not prevail in that argument either at trial.

International

Bolivia's New President Wants to Industrialize Coca Production. Following the same line as his predecessor, Evo Morales, incoming President Luis Arce of Morales' Movement to Socialism (MAS) Party says he wants to expand industrial uses for the country's coca crops. "We want to not only continue to produce coca, but also industrialize it," Arce said, citing, for example, toothpaste."A coca leaf contains 14 alkaloids, one of which is an excellent remedy for caries, that is why those who chew coca do not have cavities," Arce said.

Czech Poll Shows Narrow Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Prazsky Denik has support for marijuana legalization at 54%, with especially strong support from teenagers (72%), twenty-somethings (79%), and people in their thirties (70%). By contrast, support was very weak among people in their fifties (20%) and people over 60 (8%).

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Drug Treatment

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

Opioids

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foreign Policy

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

International

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

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

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."

State Treasurers Lobby for Marijuana Banking in COVID Bill, Journalists Harassed in Colombia, More... (8/18/20)

A coalition of state treasurers is urging Congress to pass marijuana banking reforms as part of any coronavirus relief package, Arizona's Maricopa County improves the way it handles smalltime pot busts, and more.

Can the marijuana industry catch a break with the coronavirus relief bill? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

State Treasurers Group Lobbies for Marijuana Banking in Coronavirus Bill. A coalition of state treasurers from around the country are calling on Congress to include marijuana banking reforms in the next coronavirus relief package. The move would boost the economy by giving it a much-needed infusion of capital, while protecting workers in the sector, the treasurers argued. The House included the SAFE Banking Act in the relief bill it passed in May, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has long opposed marijuana reforms, sharply criticized House Democrats for including marijuana in the bill. Negotiations on the relief bill are currently going nowhere.

Arizona's Most Populous County Will Defer Pot Possession Prosecutions if Offenders Get a Medical Marijuana Card. Maricopa County (Phoenix) Attorney Allister Adel has announced that anyone who gets arrested in Maricopa County on a simple marijuana possession charge can apply for a medical marijuana card to avoid prosecution. "In cases where the defendant was not in compliance with the AMMA [Arizona Medical Marijuana Act] at the time of the crime solely because the person did not have a valid medical marijuana card, MCAO will dismiss a charge involving any crime covered by the AMMA if the defendant obtains a medical marijuana card and provides proof by the [initial pretrial conference]," the new policy says. That's a vast improvement over past practice under former County Attorney Bill Montgomery. Under the reign of Montgomery and his predecessors, low-level, first- and second-time marijuana offenders were sent to a drug treatment program called TASC, where they would shell out thousands of dollars and submit to frequent urine tests. The county attorney's office would get a cut of the profits.

Drug Policy

Minneapolis Suburb Repeals "Crime-Free, Drug-Free" Ordinance. The city council in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park voted unanimously Monday to repeal a controversial housing ordinance that police used to order landlords to evict tenants over suspected criminal activity. Tenants who were never convicted or even charged with a crime lost their housing, and once a local news station went public with its investigation, the city council moved quickly to repeal the policy.

International

Committee to Protect Journalists Calls for Investigation After Colombian Soldiers Shoot at Journalist, Threaten Reporters Covering Coca Protests. The Committee to Protect Journalists called Monday for Colombian authorities to undertake a thorough and transparent investigation into an incident where soldiers fired weapons at journalists Fernando Osorio and Edilson Álvarez as they covered a coca grower protest, then detained them for six hours and accused them of being left-wing guerrillas. "Colombian authorities should thoroughly investigate soldiers' brazen attacks on journalists Fernando Osorio and Edilson Álvarez and ensure that all those responsible are held to account," said CPJ Central and South Americas Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. "The fact that this is the second shooting attack by soldiers on Osorio highlights the disregard that some in the Army appear to have for journalists. Impunity in these attacks will only perpetuate violence against journalists."

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

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

Breonna Taylor (family photo)
Marijuana Policy

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

Law Enforcement

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

International

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

MA MJ Industry Unionization Battles, Bolivian Coca Growers Mobilize, More... (8/12/20)

A former crime-fighting prosecutor and attorney general who now wants to legalize marijuana is Joe Biden's vice-presidential pick, a Wyoming judge frees some hemp farmers from a spurious prosecution, and more.

Joe Biden has selected Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), the sponsor of a marijuana legalization bill, as his vice-presidential pick.
Marijuana Policy

Joe Biden Selects MORE Act Sponsor Kamala Harris for VP. Presumptive Democratic Party presidential nominee has selected Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) to be his vice-presidential pick. For drug reformers, Harris's record as San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general is a mixed one, but she is currently sponsoring a federal marijuana legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (S.2227). The Senate version of the bill hasn't moved, but the House version, HR 3384) made history last year by passing out of the House Judiciary Committee, the first time a legalization bill won a vote in Congress.

Massachusetts Marijuana Cultivation Workers Unionize. Workers at Cultivate Holdings in Leicester voted by an "overwhelming majority" to join the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Local 1445, the latest victory for organized labor in the industry. In July, workers at Mayflower Medicinals in Holliston voted to join the UFCW. But the union isn't winning every vote; recently, workers at New England Treatment Access voted down unionization. The UFCW accused management of "anti-union tactics" in that case.

Hemp

Wyoming Judge Throws Out Drug Trafficking Charges Against Hemp Farmers. Late last week, a Laramie County judge threw out drug trafficking charges brought against a pair of hemp advocates and farmers and two of their workers after the Division of Criminal Investigation raided their farm last November. Prosecutors sought to bring marijuana manufacture, delivery, possession, and cultivation charges against all four, but the judge ruled that the farmers had intended to produce hemp, not marijuana. Under Wyoming law, hemp has to have less than 0.3% THC. This crop contained less.

International

Bolivian Coca Growers Mobilize, Blockade Roads in Rising Protests Against Delayed Elections

(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.)

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

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

How much coca and cocaine is Peru producing?
Marijuana Policy

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Law Enforcement

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

International

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

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

House to Vote on Protecting All State-Legal Marijuana Programs, Bolivia Coca Cultivation Up, More... (7/29/20)

An amendment to block the Justice Department from using its funds to go after state-legal marijuana programs is headed for a House vote, Maryland's Supreme Court rules that the smell of weed isn't enough for a police search and arrest, and more.

Maryland Supreme Court rules smell of weed not sufficient for arrest or search. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Will Vote on Protecting All State Marijuana Programs This Week. The House is prepared to vote this week on an amendment from Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) that would protect both medical and recreational marijuana programs in the states, territories, and tribal lands. The amendment would bar the Justice Department from using its funds to impede the implementation of state-legal marijuana programs.

Maryland Supreme Court Rules Smell of Marijuana Alone Not Sufficient for Police Search and Arrest. The state's high court has ruled that police may not search or arrest people based on the smell of marijuana alone. "The odor of marijuana, without more, does not provide law enforcement officers with the requisite probable cause to arrest and perform a warrantless search of that person incident to the arrest," the court held in a unanimous ruling. The decision builds on an earlier ruling by the same court that police can't arrest and search someone based on observing amounts of marijuana smaller than 10 grams.

International

Bolivia Coca Cultivation Up Last Year, UNODC Says. Coca cultivation was up 10% over 2018 last year, according to the latest Coca Cultivation Monitoring Report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The Yungas region of La Paz accounted for nearly two-thirds of cultivation, while the Tropics of Cochabamba accounted for nearly all the rest. Meanwhile, the Bolivian government reported a roughly 20% decrease in eradication.

British Columbia Bill to Require Youth Overdose Victims to Be Detained Put on Hold. Canada's British Columbia has paused movement on a bill that would allow for people under age 19 to be detained after they suffer a drug overdose. The proposed changes in the provincial Mental Health Act would allow teens to be detained in a hospital for up to a week after an overdose, but the bill has been paused in the face of opposition from children and youth advocates and drug reform activists. They say it should be withdrawn completely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drug War Issues

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