Opium Production

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Biden Pot Pardons Have Broad Public Support, Afghan Opium Crop Up, More... (11/2/22)

A Colorado psychedelic initiative needs just a bit more support to get over the top next week, the Missouri marijuana legalization initiative is in the same boat, and more.

freshly harvested opium resin in Afghanistan (IRIN)
Marijuana Policy

Biden Marijuana Pardons Have Broad Public Support, Poll Finds. A new Monmouth University poll finds broad public approval of President Joe Biden's (D) decision to issue blanket pardons to anyone convicted of simple federal marijuana possession charges. The poll also found broad public support for marijuana legalization, with 68 percent in favor, just one point less than the number of those who supported the Biden pardons. "Polling from a variety of sources shows that support for marijuana legalization has been increasing consistently over the past twenty years. Biden's action is in line with how the vast majority of Americans feel about this issue," said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Missouri Poll Has Marijuana Legalization Initiative Leading but Under 50 Percent. The Missouri marijuana polling muddle continues. One recent poll had Amendment 3 with 43 percent of the vote -- not a majority, but a higher figure than those who said they opposed it -- while another poll had the initiative cruising to victory with 62 percent support. Now, the latest poll from Emerson College Polling and The Hill -- the same folks who had the 43 percent poll just weeks ago -- has the initiative again leading but under the 50 percent required to win. This time the poll had support at 48 percent support, with 35 percent opposed and 17 percent undecided. While initiative campaigns would like to see support at 60 percent or so going into the election, or at least above the 50 percent needed to win, if these latest poll numbers are accurate, the campaign would need only to peel away about one out of five undecided voters, and keep the supporters it has now, to emerge victorious next week.

Psychedelics

Colorado Poll Has Psychedelic Initiative Under 50 Percent. The initiative to legalize the possession of psychedelics and create licensed "healing center" where people can use psilocybin under therapeutic supervision, Proposition 122, is trailing slightly according to a new poll, but has gained support since the same poll queried voters in September. The measure has 43 percent support, up from 36 percent in September, but opposition remains higher, increasing from 41 percent in September to 44 percent now. That is a statistical dead heat between "yes" and "no" votes, but still has the initiative below the 50 percent needed to win. Nearly 13 percent of voters remain undecided; the initiative will need to get a majority of those undecideds to get over the top next week.

International

Afghan Opium Crop Up One Third Despite Taliban Ban, UN Says. The 2022 opium crop in Afghanistan is the most profitable in years with cultivation up by nearly a third amid soaring prices, and despite the multiple humanitarian and economic crises facing the country and its Taliban rulers, said the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on Tuesday. The authorities banned all cultivation of opium poppy and all narcotics under strict new laws, in April 2022. This year's harvest was largely exempted from the decree, said UNODC, and farmers in Afghanistan must now decide on planting opium poppy for next year amid continued uncertainty about how the Taliban will enforce the ban. Sowing of the main 2023 opium crop must be done by early November this year.

"Afghan farmers are trapped in the illicit opiate economy, while seizure events around Afghanistan suggest that opiate trafficking continues unabated," said UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly. "The international community must work to address the acute needs of the Afghan people, and to step up responses to stop the criminal groups trafficking heroin and harming people in countries around the world."

Opiate Treatment Program (OTP) Barriers, Schumer Says Progress on SAFE Banking Act +, More... (11/1/22)

There's a drug crackdown going on in India's Punjab, Afghan drug prices are rising despite questions about whether the Taliban ban is actually happening, and more.

An Aghan opium poppy field. It is almost planting time again. Will the Taliban ban actually take place? Stay tuned. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Schumer Says Senate Close to Passing Marijuana Banking, Expungements Bill After Talks with Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Sunday that Congress is "very close" to filing and then passing the SAFE Banking Act + bill, which includes provisions including banking protections for state-legal marijuana businesses and expungements of past marijuana convictions. Schumer cited progress he had made in talks with a "bunch of Republican senators."

Schumer had blocked earlier efforts to pass the SAFE Banking Act, which has passed the House seven times, but now appears ready to move on it as prospects for a broader legalization bill fade. "We are getting very close," Schumer said. "I am working in a bipartisan way with Democrats and Republicans to take the SAFE Banking Act, which allows financial institutions to involve themselves in cannabis companies and lend money to them -- but it also does some things for justice, such as expunging a record. So, expunging the records is important, and we're getting clos We may be able to get something done rather soon. I'm working with a bunch of Republican senators, a bunch of Democratic senators, to get something passed."

Drug Treatment

State Opioid Treatment Program Regulations Put Evidence-Based Care Out of Reach for Many. Opioid treatment programs (OTPs) are the only health care modalities that can offer methadone as well as buprenorphine and extended-release naltrexone to patients. They are the only facilities that can offer methadone, but federal and state rules not based on evidence are curtailing access to high-quality OTP care, the Pew Trust reports in new research.

Among barriers to OTP treatment, Pew found that 20 states require a new OTP to seek state approval baed on demonstrating a need for services before opening, seven states impose restrictive zoning rules on OTPS that don't apply to other health are facilities, 10 states don't allow clients to take medication home in the first 30 days of treatment, 48 states allow OTPs to throw patients out of the program for not being abstinent from opioids or other drugs, and 23 states specify a counseling schedule for patients rather than providing individualized care. Click on the link for methodology and a full data set.

International

Afghan Drug Prices Soared After Taliban Ban, Despite Little Evidence of Enforcement. Illegal drug prices have skyrocketed in Afghanistan since the Taliban banned the drug trade in April, even though there is only limited evidence that the militants are enforcing the ban. Opium prices have increased more than 50 percent, while methamphetamine prices have also risen, according to countrywide data gathered by the private, UK-based satellite imagery company Alcis. While analysts said the ban is not yet widely enforced, prices are rising based on fears of a future crackdown. A new opium poppy planting season is about to get underway, and it is unclear to what degree local Taliban commanders intend to or even can enforce a ban on poppy production. Satellite data, though, has shown a crackdown on ephedra (used to manufacture meth) markets and meth labs already underway.

But any crackdown would come in the face of a massive nationwide economic crisis that could drive people away from supporting the Taliban. "The things that people used to survive on in the face of a drugs ban -- in terms of joining the [army], working in the cities in construction -- those options are gone," David Mansfield, a researcher on the report and expert on Afghanistan's drugs trade, said. "Do local Taliban... press on this and risk increasing a humanitarian crisis, alienating a population, or do they let it ride because of the fear of resistance?"

India's Punjab Police in Massive Drug Crackdown. Police in the Punjab have arrested 6,997 drug smugglers since July and registered 5,436 FIRs (first information reports -- the initial report of a possible criminal offense), of which 580 are for possessing large quantities of drugs. The crackdown is part of Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann's "war against the drug menace plaguing the state."

Between roadblocks and other searches, police have seized nearly 260 kilograms of heroin, as well as an additional 147.5 kilograms seized at the ports of Gujarat and Maharashtra. They also seized 300 kilograms of raw heroin, 197 kilograms of marijuana and nearly three million pills, capsules, and vials of pharmaceutical opioids. State police chief Gaurav Yadav has called on police to investigate all leads in every case no matter how small and to aggressively seize the assets of drug suspects.

MO Judge Okays Legal Pot Initiative, Taliban War on Opium a Dud So Far, More... (9/12/22)

Fentanyl has largely replaced heroin in the nation's capital and that's being reflected in overdose statistics, India creates a national drug trafficker registry, and more.

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow. Despite the Taliban's announced ban. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Judge Rejects Challenge to Marijuana Legalization Initiative. Show Me State voters will have the chance in November to show the country whether they support marijuana legalization or not after a Cole County judge dismissed a lawsuit from anti-marijuana groups seeking to keep Amendment 3 off the ballot. Opponents sued, arguing that some signatures were invalid because they were verified by the state instead of county election officials, but the judge dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the Colorado-based plaintiff did not provide evidence that she was a Missouri resident. But the judge also said he would have ruled against the lawsuit regardless of residency because the initiative met state signature-gathering requirements.

Opiates and Opioids

Fentanyl Replaces Heroin as Leading Cause of Overdose Deaths in DC. Fentanyl has now almost completely replaced heroin in Washington, DC, with heroin being detected in only 15 of the city's 166 opioid overdose deaths in the first five months of 2022. Heroin is now killing fewer Washingtonians than fentanyl, cocaine, alcohol, or prescription drugs. Public health experts say public health strategies must be adapted to adjust to the city's changing drug use profile. Most of the city's drug overdoses in the last year were among people between 40 and 70, and 84 percent of them were Black.

International

Taliban Make Little Progress in Countering Drugs. The Taliban banned opium in April, shortly after the last harvest, but as the next poppy growing season approaches, less than 250 acres of poppy have been eradicated and only 4,270 kilograms of opium have been seized, far behind the performance of previous Afghan governments. In 2020, for example, the government seized 80,000 kilos of opium, nearly 20 times as much as this year. And that has some experts questioning the Taliban's commitment to the ban. "There is serious doubt on the intentions of the current rulers whether they really want to eradicate poppy," said Javid Qaem, a former deputy minister for counternarcotics in Afghanistan and now a researcher at Arizona State University. "At the time of the Republic, security was a big challenge. Police could not go to the areas where poppy was cultivated. Taliban claim that they have all the areas under their control. They should be able to do it easily," he told said.

India's "Narco Files" Hold Over 500,000 Names. India's first registry of drug traffickers, launched only a month ago, now has more than 500,000 names on it. The National Integrated Database on Arrested Narco-offenders (NIDAAN) - a database of arrested narcotics offenders from states and union territories, developed by Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) - aims to profile each narco-offender by integrating with Inter Operable Justice System (ICJS) and Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and System (CCTNS), officials said. It holds the names of all people convicted of drug trafficking offenses in the past 10 years.

Psychedelic Use Increasing in US, Colombia Looks to Cocaine Decriminalization, More... (8/22/22)

A Swiss pilot program allowing legal marijuana sales will begin in three weeks, Colombia's president plans a drug decrime move, and more.

LSD blotter paper (Creative Commons)
Psychedelics

New Study Estimates Over 5.5 Million US Adults Use Hallucinogens. Hallucinogen use has increased since 2015, overall, and particularly among adults 26 and older, while use decreased in adolescents aged 12 -- 17 years, according to a new study by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia University Irving Medical Center. An estimated 5.5+ million people in the US used hallucinogens in the past year, in 2019, which represents an increase from 1.7 percent of the population aged 12 years and over, in 2002, to 2.2 percent, in 2019. LSD use between 2002 and 2019 increased overall and in all age groups, with the past 12-month rate increasing from 0.9 percent in 2002 to 4 percent in 2019 for those 18-25 years of age. PCP use between 2002 and 2019 decreased, as did the drug Ecstasy since 2015. The study is the first to provide formal statistical analyses of trends in the prevalence of hallucinogen use overall and by age groups during the last two decades. The findings are published online in the peer-reviewed journal Addiction.

International

Colombia's New President Set to Move on Cocaine Decriminalization. The government of new President Gustavo Petro is now proposing an end to "prohibition" and the beginning of a government-regulated cocaine market. Working through both national legislation and alliances with other leftist governments in the region, the Petro government hopes to make the country a laboratory for drug decriminalization. Felipe Tascón, Petro's drug czar, said Colombia hoped to take advantage of the new regional power configuration, where leftists control the governments of the trio of cocaine producing countries (Bolivia, Colombia, Peru) and plans to meet with his regional counterparts on the issue with an eye toward forging a unified regional bloc to take on the international drug conventions at the United Nations. Tascón also said the administration would back legislation to decriminalize both cocaine and marijuana, as well as ending aerial spraying and manual eradication of coca crops. He said that regulating cocaine sales would allow the government to wrest control of the market from drug traffickers and armed groups.

Swiss Pilot Project on Regulated Marijuana Sales Begins Next Month. A pilot project that will see marijuana sold through pharmacies to some 370 study participants is set to begin September 15. The "Weed Care" program will allow participants to legally buy marijuana from nine shops in Basel. Health officials hope the trial will help address political questions about marijuana regulation. Study participants are all current marijuana users who must fill out surveys throughout the 30-month study. "It's not about full legalization -- but regulation -- where consumption is possible in a protected setting. That's what we want to test now," said Lukas Engelberger, medical director for Basel.

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.

NE MedMJ Initiative Signature Deadline Looms, Swiss Ease Medical Marijuana Access, More... (6/23/22)

North Carolina House Republicans are blocking a medical marijuana bill that has already passed the Senate, opium sales continue at an Afghanistan opium market despite a Taliban ban, and more.

Despite an announced Taliban ban on opium, sales are continuing at the market in Helmand. (UNODC)
Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Has Only Two Weeks to Come Up With 50,000 Signatures. Things are looking grim for Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, the group trying to qualify an initiative for the November ballot. The campaign needs 50,000 more valid voter signatures in the next two weeks to qualify but has only gathered 35,000 signatures in months of signature-gathering. The campaign has been plagued this year by the loss of significant donors who had funded past efforts. "The reality is we need 50,000 Nebraskans to sign the petition in the next two weeks. Now it's on Nebraskans. The volunteers and patients have carried the water this far. It's on Nebraskans to go out and find a place to sign it," said state Sen. Anna Wishart, co-chair of the initiative. The same group qualified an initiative for the 2020 ballot, only to have it thrown out by the state Supreme Court.

North Carolina House Republicans Block Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate has passed a medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Use Act (Senate Bill 711), but it now appears doomed in the House even though the legislative session still has more than a week to run. During a closed-door meeting Wednesday, House Republicans voted internally not to advance the bill. But the bill is not dead until the session ends, and it is theoretically possible that the bill could advance because budget negotiations are still ongoing.

International

Afghanistan Opium Markets Still Operating in Helmand Province Despite Taliban Ban. The Taliban may have issued an edict banning opium production and the opium trade, but it has yet to take effect in the poppy-growing heartland of Helmand province. Opium farmers there are still selling their harvests to smugglers, and they say they are doing it out of economic necessity in the now poverty-wracked nation. "People will sell it as long as they have it at home, it is not food. By selling it, people can make some money to feed their families," one farmer explained.

Switzerland to Ease Medical Marijuana Access. The Swiss government announced Wednesday that it will lift the ban on medical marijuana, in line with a March 2021 amendment to the Swiss Narcotics Act. As of August 1, patients will no longer have to obtain permission from the Federal Office of Public Health, but instead can get a recommendation from a doctor. "The decision to use a cannabis-based medicine for therapeutic purposes will rest with the doctor, in consultation with the patient," the government said. The government had allowed some 3,000 people to use medical marijuana, but the public health office itself described the process as "tedious administrative procedures" and said "Sick people must be able to access these medicines without excessive bureaucracy."

Taliban Launch Opium Poppy Eradication Campaign, NY Safe Injection Site Bill Dies, More... (6/6/22)

Five Texas cities will vote on non-binding marijuana reform measures this fall, the New York legislative session ends without passing a safe injection site bill, and more.

Afghan opium poppies (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

New York Bill to Crack Down on Illicit Marijuana Possession and Sales Dies. The Senate last week approved Senate Bill 9452, which would expand the state Office of Cannabis Management's authority to seize illicit marijuana and the Department of Taxation and Finance's authority to civilly penalize people for selling marijuana illegally. But the bill died without action in the Assembly as the legislative session came to an end. The bill aimed at "grey market" operators -- retail outlets that are selling weed without being licensed. No licenses for pot shops have been issued yet. The bill would have made it a Class A misdemeanor for distributors and retailers to sell weed without a license. Fines for possession of illicit marijuana would have doubled to $400 per ounce of flower and $1,000 for each illicit plant.

Five Texas Cities Will Vote on Marijuana Reforms. Ground Game Texas, which is pushing for marijuana reform across the state, announced last Friday that it had gathered enough signatures to qualify a non-binding decriminalization initiative in the Central Texas town of Harker Heights, bringing to five the number of towns in the state that will have a chance to vote on marijuana reform this year. The other cities are Elgin, Killeen, and San Marcos in Central Texas and Denton in North Texas.

Harm Reduction

New York Safe Injection Site Bill Dies as Session Ends. A bill that would have paved the way for safe injection sites in the state, Assembly Bill 224, had died as the legislative session ends. The bill managed to win an Assembly committee vote, but went no further. Other harm reduction bills also died, including one that would require treatment providers to offer clients access to buprenorphine (Senate Bill 6746) and another that would have decriminalized buprenorphine (Assembly Bill 646). On the other hand, a bill that would eliminate copays at methadone clinics for people with private insurance (Senate Bill 5690) passed.

International

Afghan Taliban Launch Campaign to Eradicate Poppy Crop. Two months after issuing an edict banning opium poppy cultivation in the country, the Taliban has announced it has begun a campaign to eradicate poppy production, with the goal of wiping out the country's massive yield of opium and heroin. For all of this century, Afghanistan has been the world's leading opium and heroin producer, accounting for more than 80 percent of global output. People violating the ban "will be arrested and tried according to Sharia laws in relevant courts," said Taliban deputy interior minister for counternarcotics, Mullah Abdul Haq Akhund. But with the country in profound economic crisis after the departure of Western troops and economic aid last summer, the ban threatens one of the country's most vibrant economic sectors and the livelihoods of millions of poor farm and day laborer families. "If we are not allowed to cultivate this crop, we will not earn anything," one farmer told the Associated Press. Nonetheless, "We are committed to bringing poppy cultivation to zero," said Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Nafi Takor.

The Taliban Announces a Ban on Opium. Really? [FEATURE]

On April 3, the Taliban announced a ban on drug cultivation in Afghanistan, for years the world's dominant opium producer, accounting for more than 80 percent of the global supply of the substance, from which heroin is derived, throughout this century. But the ban announcement raised as many questions as it answered and has been met with a degree of skepticism, not only around the motives of the Taliban but also because opium plays such a key role in an Afghan economy that is now in especially dire straits.

The opium poppy is an economic mainstay in Afghanistan. Can the Taliban really suppress it? (UNODC)
"As per the decree of the supreme leader of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, all Afghans are informed that from now on, cultivation of poppy has been strictly prohibited across the country," said an order from the Taliban's supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada. "If anyone violates the decree, the crop will be destroyed immediately and the violator will be treated according to the Sharia law," the order said.

The order also banned the cultivation, manufacture, transportation, or use of other drugs. (Afghanistan is also one of the world's leading cannabis producers and is seeing rapidly increasing methamphetamine production.)

The Taliban presided over the only other opium ban in modern Afghan history back in 2000, but that effort faltered amidst a popular backlash against repressing a crop that provided incomes for hundreds of thousands of families, and eventually withered away before the Taliban were overthrown by the invading Americans late in 2001.

During two decades of foreign occupation, repressing the opium trade largely played second fiddle to the war on terror, and the Afghan opium economy prospered. By the end of 2021, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated that the opium trade was worth between $1.8 and $2.7 billion, constituting as much as 11 percent of the country's Gross National Product (GNP). UNODC also noted that the departure of Western development assistance after the Taliban takeover in August, which accounted for 22 percent of GNP, will only make drug markets a larger share of the economy.

So, is the ban for real? And if the Taliban are serious, can they actually do it, given the crucial role the crop plays in the devasted national economy? The Chronicle consulted with a couple of experts on the topic, and opinions were divided.

Sher Jan Ahmadzai is director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He is skeptical.

"If you look at the Taliban's historical approach to opium, they only banned it when prices went down to increase demand," said Ahmadzai. "A second goal has been to respond to international pressure that opium should be banned. But looking strategically at opium, where their funding comes from, it doesn't seem to me that they will really pursue this."

"There are a couple of reasons for that," Ahmadzai continued. "One, they have been dependent on the income from opium. Although opium production is haram, they didn't ban it for religious reasons. Instead, they taxed it, and many of their leaders have been involved in drug trafficking and depend on this. To me, it seems very difficult to accept the ban as a fact.

"Second, most of rural Afghanistan, especially the southwest, has traditionally been dependent on opium production, and it will really hurt them economically, which will create political problems among the Taliban. Their support base is opium-growing farmers, and a ban will attract their anger," he argued.

Vanda Felbab-Brown is a senior fellow in the Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institute. She thinks the ban is for real but will come with a high price.

"For several years, Taliban interlocutors were saying they were moving toward the ban," said Felbab-Brown. "It didn't work out for them in 2000, and later they were deeply engaged in poppy cultivation, but the leadership now is very conservative, very inward-looking, very doctrinaire, and is trying to restore 1990 policies. The more internationalist factions within the Taliban are much weaker and have not been successful in implementing policies.

"There is good reason to believe they will try to implement the ban, but that will have significant impacts on the implementers, including fighters, who have not gotten paid," she continued. "This will impact relations among the various factions and the ability of commanders to pay their fighters, which will be negatively affected by the ban.

"The question is how long will they maintain it, how long are they willing to squeeze the people and deal with compounding rifts within the Taliban. They don't want to alienate various factions, but in this case, we see a very conservative policy that will compound those rifts," she predicted.

Ahmadzai was not convinced that the ban reflected factional differences between conservatives and internationalists within the Taliban.

"I don't see any big differences in their policies," he said. "I haven't seen any breakups, so it's hard to say it's a power struggle between the factions. No one has spoken out against it; even those who were stationed in Doha have not spoken out against anything the conservatives have done. If there is a power struggle, it is not around differences over banning."

For Ahmadzai, the ban is little less than a publicity stunt, especially given harsh economic conditions and Afghanistan's desperate need to mollify the international community in order to get sanctions removed and assistance flowing again.

"The urban economy was already seeing its own share of destruction in the last eight months, and the rural economy is more or less based on opium," he said, "so more than anything this looks like another cosmetic step to let the international community know they are doing something. They want to make Iran or Russia happy. Russia is a huge market for Afghan drugs, and the Russians want them to come down hard on opium production."

Felbab-Brown disagreed.

"There is also a possible international dimension to this; the Taliban may be trying to curry favor with Iran or Russia, but that is not the principal reason," said Felbab-Brown.

Whatever the reason for the ban announcement, if it actually happens, it is going to make tough times in Afghanistan -- the UN last month reported that the country is facing a food insecurity and malnutrition crisis of "unparalleled proportions" -- even tougher.

"The Taliban are not promising help or advising people what to do; their attitude is just cope with it. But the country is already in a drastic humanitarian situation, and this will not just hurt farmers, there will be significant knock-on effects," said Felbab-Brown. "The economy has dried up since the Taliban took power, and heroin has been one of the sources of liquidity. As problematic as the bans and eradication were in 2000, eventually they were not enforced and eradication was not funded, and now the economy is so much worse. The economic impact of the Western withdrawal is already awful; this will make it just tragic."

MA Senate Passes Marijuana Equity Bill, Taliban Poppy Ban Sends Opium Prices Soaring, More... (4/8/22)

A South Carolina medical marijuana bill advances, the Senate is poised to vote soon on a bill to finally eliminate the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more.

Singapore is the object of international condemnation over its resumption of the death penalty for drug offenses. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Senate Passes Marijuana Equity Bill. The Senate on Thursday approved a bill aimed at helping minority entrepreneurs and people adversely impacted by previous drug law enforcement gain a foothold in the legal marijuana industry. Senate Bill 2801 has numerous provisions, including creating a new Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund, redirecting tax revenue equivalent to 1 percent of a social equity business’s sales from the state to the city or town where the business is located; directing the Cannabis Control Commission to make rules for localities to "to promote and encourage full participation in the regulated marijuana industry" by individuals from communities disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition. The bill now heads to the House.

Medical Marijuana

California Bill to Require Communities Allow Medical Marijuana Sales Wins Committee Vote. Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)’s Senate Bill 1186, which restores voter-created access to medical cannabis across the state by requiring cities to provide consumers access to purchase medicinal cannabis, passed the Senate Business and Professions Committee by a vote of 8-3 on Thursday. It now heads to the Senate Governance and Finance Committee. Under current California law — which arguably allows cities to ban any and all cannabis sales — 62% of cities have banned all cannabis sales, including medical cannabis sales. As a result, residents of those cities, including people living with HIV, cancer, arthritis, insomnia, and other conditions, frequently have no option other than to buy on the illicit market. California’s thriving and growing illicit cannabis market both undermines the legal, regulated market and risks people obtaining contaminated cannabis. SB 1186 requires cities to allow some form of medical cannabis access. Cities can choose how to provide that access, either by authorizing medical cannabis delivery, storefront, or both. However, under SB 1186, cities will no longer be able to ban all medical cannabis access.

South Carolina House Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill, Sending It to House Floor. The House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee passed the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act (Senate Bill 150) Thursday after making minor changes. The bill now heads for a House floor vote. The bill would allow patients with one of 12 qualifying conditions to access a two-week supply of medical cannabis in the form of oils, vaporizers, salves, topicals and patches with a doctor's recommendation from their doctor. The committee amended the bill to add criminal background checks for medical marijuana distributors and security plans for their businesses.

Sentencing Policy

Congress on Verge on Passing Bill to End Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. This week, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) became the 11th Republican to sign onto the EQUAL Act (S. 59), which would eliminate the sentencing disparity in crack and powder cocaine offenses. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also met Tuesday with advocates and formerly incarcerated leaders, where he described the legislation as "a priority." He also said he plans to bring the bill to the Senate floor, though he did not say when. The bill would apply retroactively and would allow thousands of crack offenders—mainly Black men—to have their sentences reduced and get out of prison. The 100:1 disparity was created by the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, but reduced to an 18:1 disparity by the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, and that reform was made retroactive by the 2018 First Step Act.

International

Taliban Poppy Ban Sends Opium Prices Soaring. As this year's opium harvest gets underway, the price of opium has hit an all-time high after the Taliban banned poppy cultivation across the country. Farmers in Kandahar reported harvesting their crops without interference and were happy with high prices, but said they might stop growing opium because of the decree. The price of a kilogram of raw opium jumped to a record high of around $330, but has now declined slightly to about $300.

Singapore Drug Executions Spark International Condemnation, Rare Public Protest. Singapore resumed executions of drug offenders on March 30, with others in line to be hung shortly, and that is sparking both condemnation abroad and rare public protests at home. The UN Human Rights office expressed concern about what it feared would be "a surge in execution notices," Amnesty International charged that "the use of the death penalty in Singapore violates international human rights law and standards,"  and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, now the chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, wrote that Singapore’s 1973 Misuse of Drugs Act, which imposes a mandatory death sentence for 20 different drug offenses, "has not fulfilled its intention of preventing and combatting illicit drug trafficking and drug use." She added that the country’s "use of the death penalty for drug-related offences does not meet the [international law] threshold of ‘most serious crimes’ … and thus clearly violates international human rights law." And on Sunday, hundreds of people gathered to demonstrate against the resumption of the death penalty in a rare public protest.

Taliban Bans Opium Production, NH House Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill, More... (4/4/22)

Marylanders could get to vote on legalizing marijuana, the Taliban announce an opium ban, and more.

Will these Afghan opium fields become a thing of the past? The Taliban says it is banning opium production. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Referendum. The House voted last Friday to approve a measure that would ask state voters to approve marijuana legalization, House Bill 1. The Senate had already passed it, and because it is a constitutional amendment, it does not require approval from Gov. Larry Hogan (R). The House also passed a bill to implement marijuana legalization if voters approve it by a veto-proof majority of 94-39. The constitutional amendment would legalize marijuana in July 2023, and the companion bill would legalize the possession of up to 1.5 ounces.

Missouri House Committee Passes Bill to Legalize Adult-Use Marijuana. A marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 2704, is moving in the House. Last Thursday, the House Public Safety Committee approved it on a 5-4 vote, with some amendments. The bill would legalize marijuana use and possession for people 21 and over and allow for up to 12 plants for personal use. It would also set up a system of taxed and regulated sales, create a path to expungement of past offenses, and bar the use of civil asset forfeiture for marijuana offenses. One amendment, however, is being described as a "poison pill." The bill contained language to create a loan program to support women and minority-owned businesses, but Rep. Nick Schroer (R) included language that revised the equity provisions to specify that only women who are "biologically" female would be eligible for the benefit. This conservative culture war import will make it difficult for some Democrats to support the legislation. The bill now goes to the House Rules Committee.

New Hampshire House Passes Marijuana Legalization Bill. The House last Thursday voted 169-156 to approve House Bill 1598, which would legalize marijuana and have it be sold in up to 10 stores operated by the state Liquor Commission. Earlier this year, the House also approved a bill legalizing the possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of weed and allowing for home grows of up to six plants, the harvest from which could traded or gifted but not sold. The House has passed legalization bills numerous times in recent years only to see them die in the Senate, which has yet to act on these bills. And even if the Senate were to approve them, Gov. Chris Sununu (R) remains opposed.

International

Taliban Says It is Banning Opium Production. Even as this years poppy harvest gets underway, the Taliban announced on Sunday that it was banning the cultivation of narcotics in the country, including opium. Afghanistan is far and away the world's largest opium producer and has been throughout this century. But no, more, the Taliban says. "As per the decree of the supreme leader of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, all Afghans are informed that from now on, cultivation of poppy has been strictly prohibited across the country," according to an order from the Taliban's supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada. "If anyone violates the decree, the crop will be destroyed immediately and the violator will be treated according to the Sharia law," the order, announced at a news conference by the Ministry of Interior in Kabul, said. The Taliban is seeking formal international recognition in order to undo sanctions that are crippling its economy, and drug control has been a major demand of the international community. Opium production has increased in recent months amidst economic collapse, and enforcement of the ban could prove problematic. 

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