Corruption

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GOP Criticize COVID Bill Cannabis Provisions, Honduran Congress Head Tied to Traffickers, More... (5/14/20)

It looks like there will be a fight over marijuana provisions in the HEROES Act coronavirus relief bill, an Oklahoma pot breathalyzer pilot project bill passes the House, another member of the Honduran political elite is tied to drug traffickers, and more.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is throwing jabs at marijuana provisions in the HEROES Act. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Mitch McConnell and Other GOP Lawmakers Slam Marijuana Banking Provisions in Coronavirus Bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) criticized marijuana banking provisions included in the latest coronavirus relief package, complaining that Democrats had included funding to study diversity in the industry as part of the bill. McConnell also more broadly attacked the incorporation of language allowing the industry access to banking and other financial services. McConnell's plaints were echoed by several other Republican lawmakers.

Arizona Court Rules Marijuana Initiative Can't Collect Signatures Online The Arizona Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a request to allow online signature-gathering for proposed ballot initiatives, including the Smart and Safe Arizona marijuana legalization initiative. The good news is the initiative says it already has sufficient signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Oklahoma Bill for Marijuana Breathalyzers Passes House. A bill that would allow marijuana breathalyzers to be used for traffic law enforcement across the state has passed the House and now heads to the Senate. The bill would allocate $300,000 for a pilot project with a company that has developed a breathalyzer for marijuana.

International

President of Honduran Congress Linked to Cachiros Drug Cartel: Report. A report from the Central American magazine Expediente Publico details links between the head of the Honduran congress and a major drug trafficking clan, further exposing links between the drug underworld and the country's political elite. President of the National Congress Mauricio Oliva Herrera is named as buying a series of properties in Tegucigalpa from a company linked to a notorious Honduran drug trafficking family known as the Cachiros. Oliva Herrera has confirmed that he will run for president of the country in 2021. The current president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, also a member of the National Party, has also been implicated in drug trafficking scandals.

End Drug Prohibition to Fight Organized Crime, World Leaders Say [FEATURE]

For nearly a decade now, a collection of former heads of state, high political figures, businessmen, and cultural figures have been working to reform drug policy at the national and international levels. Known as the Global Commission on Drug Policy, this group of planetary elders has been busy issuing reports at the rate of one a year on how to reduce the harms of prohibitionist drug policies and what would be more effective and humane alternatives.

members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy (globalcommissionondrugs.org)
Now they've just released their latest report, Enforcement of Drug Laws: Refocusing on Organized Crime Elites, which takes on the perverse and insidious ways drug prohibition actually empowers and encourages criminal enterprises, and counsels nations and the global anti-drug bureaucracy to find a better way. That includes pondering the possibility of drug legalization and the taming of illicit markets through regulation -- not prohibition, which has demonstrably failed for decades.

The commission rolled out its report Thursday with a virtual presentation on YouTube.

"This report has a new perspective on the problem of organized crime," said commission member Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand and former head of the United Nations Development Program. "Organized crime is a challenge in every society, and if it gets into the political realm and starts corrupting political systems, that is a huge issue, and it has done that," she said.

"Where the commission comes from is that we're saying 'drugs are being caught up in this' because of the refusal of the international community to accept that drugs need to be responsibly regulated," Clark continued. The attempt to prohibit them has actually been a license for organized crime to build a half-trillion dollar a year industry peddling stuff. Could we take drugs out of that through responsible regulation?

As president of Colombia between 2010 and 2018, Juan Manuel Santos mediated a peace treaty with the leftist guerrillas of the FARC and won a Nobel prize for his efforts. He also presided over a country that is perennially in contention for being the world's largest cocaine producer. He knows about what drug prohibition can bring.

"I come from a country that has fought drug traffickers and drug trafficking for so long and has probably paid the highest price of any country in the world -- Colombia has lost its best leaders, best journalists, best judges, best policemen -- and we are still the number one exporter of cocaine to the world markets," Santos said. "Corruption and drug trafficking go hand in hand. The most dangerous and protected individuals often escape, while ordinary people who happen to use illicit drugs see their lives destroyed by the war on drugs," he argued.

"To fight organized crime, we must follow the money," Santos continued. "People are realizing that a war that has been fought for a half century and has not been won is a war that has been lost, and so you have to change your strategy and your tactics if you want to be successful. Corruption, violence, profits, and prohibition are very closely related. You do away with prohibition, you regulate, you bring down the profits, and immediately you will start to see an improvement in violence and corruption."

The commission's work centers around five pathways, explained commission chair and former Swiss president Ruth Dreifuss.

"It is putting health first," she said. "Second, it is also giving priority to the use of some of these substances for their medical benefits. It is one of the dramatic situations also, mainly in poor countries, that the people have no access to scheduled pain killers. The third pathway, which we think is very important, is to end the criminalization of people who use drugs. The fourth chapter of our reform program is that we have to deal with the criminality related to drugs, and that is why we issued this report today. And the last point is that we have to take control. The state -- reasonable and responsible people -- have to take control of drug markets and not let them stay in criminal hands."

While the 52-page report provides a detailed, evidence-based examination of the challenges of grappling with criminal groups that thrive under prohibition, it summarizes its findings with five basic recommendations for national governments and at the United Nations, whose anti-drug treaties form the legal backbone of global drug prohibition. These are:

  1. States must acknowledge the negative consequences of repressive law enforcement approaches to drug policies and recognize that prohibition forges and strengthens criminal organizations. Sharing such conclusions with the public must then feed national debates to support bold drug policy reform. (We all know the litany by now: From racially-biased and militarized policing and over-incarceration in the United States to bloody drug wars in Mexico and Colombia financed by prohibition profits, to the murderous and repressive anti-drug campaign in the Philippines, enforcing drug prohibition has dreadfully harmful consequences.)
  2. States must analyze the transnational and trans-sectorial nature of criminal organizations, to review and reform the current exclusive focus on law enforcement. (Drug trafficking organizations don't just traffic drugs; they tend to get their fingers in whatever illicit enterprises can turn a buck for them, from wildlife smuggling to counterfeiting to extortion. And maybe we'd be better off devoting more resources to treatment and prevention instead of trying to suppress and arrest our way out of the problem.)
  3. States must develop targeted and realistic deterrence strategies to counter organized crime and focus their response on the most dangerous and/or highest profiting elements in the criminal market. States must also reinforce interdepartmental cooperation to address criminal markets in a broad sense, not solely drugs, and develop effective transnational coordination against trans-border criminal groups and international money laundering. (It's both cruel and ineffective to target drug users and street-level dealers for arrest and prosecution. But the recent Mexican experience has shown that the alternative strategy of going after "kingpins" can lead to an increase in violence as gang lieutenants engage in murderous struggles to replace each capo killed or captured. It's a real dilemma -- unless you undercut them by ending prohbition.)
  4. States must consider the legal regulation of drugs as the responsible pathway to undermine organized crime. (This increasingly seems like a very reasonable approach.)
  5. UN member states must revisit the global governance of the international drug control regime in order to achieve better outcomes in public health, public safety, justice, and greater impact on transnational organized crime. (It's way past time to nullify or amend the anti-drug treaties that guide international drug policies.)

The Global Commission on Drug Policy has laid out a framework for radical reform. Now, it's up to the nations of the world and the international institutions that bind us together to act.

US Imprisonment At Lowest Rate Since 1996, Dr. Bronner's Kicks In $1 Million for OR Psilocybin Init, More... (4/30/20)

The former Honduran National Police chief just got indicted on drug charges in New York City, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps just bestowed a huge gift on the Oregon psilocybin initiative campaign, and more.

Dr. Bronner's Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) David Bronner. The company has just donated $1 million to the OR psilocybin init.
Marijuana Policy

California Coalition Pushes for Tax Breaks for State Pot Businesses. A coalition of advocacy groups, churches, and marijuana companies is asking Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) for a temporary cut in the state's marijuana taxes. The groups warn that the coronavirus crisis and the faltering economy will take an especially hard toll on minority-run businesses. The coalition includes the California NAACP, Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches, the Southern California Coalition, an industry group.

Psychedelics

Dr. Bronner's Kicks in a Million Bucks for the Oregon Therapeutic Psilocybin Initiative. Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps has donated one million dollars to IP 34, the initiative that would create a framework for the use of psilocybin therapy by mental health practitioners in the state. The campaign is about 90% of the way to qualifying for the November ballot, but faces signature-gathering challenges in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. This massive donation should help get the campaign over the top.

Sentencing

US Imprisonment Rate at Its Lowest Since 1996. The federal Office of Justice Programs reported Thursday that the combined state and federal imprisonment rate was 431 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 US residents in 2018, which was the lowest rate since 1996, when there were 427 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 residents, the Bureau of Justice Statistics announced today. The imprisonment rate for black inmates dropped by 28%, reaching the lowest rate since 1989. Louisiana had the highest rate (695 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 state residents), followed by Oklahoma (693 per 100,000), Mississippi (626 per 100,000), Arkansas (589 per 100,000) and Arizona (559 per 100,000). Minnesota, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont had the lowest imprisonment rates in the US, with each having fewer than 200 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 residents. During 2018, the total prison population in the US declined from 1.489 million to 1.465 million, a decline of 1.6% and the fourth consecutive annual decrease of at least 1%. Less than 15% of sentenced state prisoners were serving time for a drug offense at year-end 2017 (4% for possession), the most recent year for which offense-related data are available.

International

Former Honduran National Police Chief Charged in US with Drug Trafficking and Weapons Offenses. Federal prosecutors in New York City announced Thursday that Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, the former chief of the Honduran National Police was charged in Manhattan federal court with conspiring to import cocaine into the US and related weapons charges. He allegedly abused his official position to protect cocaine shipments and murder a rival drug trafficker as part of a conspiracy involving high-ranking Honduran politicians and members of the National Police.

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

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

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

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

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

Foreign Policy

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

DEA Proposes Mobile Methadone Programs, Honduran President Took Drug Bribes, More...(3/5/20)

The DEA proposes allowing mobile methadone treatment programs, US prosecutors say the Honduran president took bribes from drug traffickers, Major League Baseball loosens up on marijuana use by players, and more.

Major League Baseball is loosening up on players' marijuana use. (Scott Slade/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Major League Baseball to Allow Players' Marijuana Use. Major League Baseball has liberalized its stance on marijuana use by players. Under a memo released last month, players can now consume marijuana without risk of discipline, although they can't come to work under the influence and they can't enter into commercial agreements with marijuana companies. The league removed marijuana from its list of controlled substances last year.

Asset Forfeiture

Georgia Bill Would End Civil Asset Forfeiture. A bipartisan group of lawmakers have filed House Bill 1086, which would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. It has been sent to the House Judiciary Committee. The bill amends state law to require that criminal proceedings be concluded before any civil forfeiture proceedings could take place, unless the property owner or interest holder waives the right to wait for criminal proceedings to conclude. The bill would also prohibit civil forfeiture proceedings from moving forward in the event of a dismissal or acquittal of criminal charges. Current law allows civil forfeiture proceedings even if a person is acquitting of a crime or charges are dismissed. 

Drug Treatment

DEA Proposes Allowing Mobile Methadone Programs. The DEA has filed a notice in the Federal Register that it is considering a proposed rule that would "revise the existing regulations for narcotic treatment programs (NTPs) to allow a mobile component associated with the registered program to be considered a coincident activity. The NTP registrants that operate or wish to operate mobile components (in the state that the registrant is registered in) to dispense narcotic drugs in schedules II-V at a remote location for the purpose of maintenance or detoxification treatment would not be required to obtain a separate registration for a mobile component. This proposed rule would waive the requirement of a separate registration at each principal place of business or professional practice where controlled substances are dispensed for those NTPs with mobile components that fully comply with the requirements of the proposed rule, once finalized. These revisions to the regulations are intended to make maintenance or detoxification treatments more widely available, while ensuring that safeguards are in place to reduce the likelihood of diversion." There are still 53 days to comment on the rule, which can be done at the link above.

Harm Reduction

Arizona House OKs Bill Legalizing Needle Exchange Programs. The House on Wednesday approved House Bill 2608, which would legalize needle exchange programs in the state as part of an effort to reduce disease and overdoses among illicit drug users. The bill now heads to the Senate.

International

Honduran President Took Bribe from Drug Traffickers, US Prosecutors Charge. Honduran President Juan Orlando Sanchez agreed to shield a drug trafficker from prosecution and offered to let him use the country’s armed forces for security in exchange for a $25,000 bribe, prosecutors in Manhattan federal court alleged Tuesday. The drug kingpin, Daniel Fuentes Ramirez, was arrested in Miami on weapons and cocaine conspiracy charges. Last fall, President Sanchez's brother, a former Honduran senator, was convicted in New York on cocaine conspiracy charges.

Two Takes on the Global Drug War and Global Drug Cultures [FEATURE]

America shows signs of emerging from the century-long shadow of drug prohibition, with marijuana leading the way and a psychedelic decriminalization movement rapidly gaining steam. It also seems as if the mass incarceration fever driven by the war on drugs has finally broken, although tens if not hundreds of thousands remain behind bars on drug charges.

As Americans, we are remarkably parochial. We are, we still like to tell ourselves, "the world's only superpower," and we can go about our affairs without overly concerning ourselves about what's going on beyond our borders. But what America does, what America wants and what America demands has impacts far beyond our borders, and the American prohibitionist impulse is no different.

Thanks largely (but not entirely) to a century of American diplomatic pressure, the entire planet has been subsumed by our prohibitionist impulse. A series of United Nations conventions, the legal backbone of global drug prohibition, pushed by the US, have put the whole world on lockdown.

We here in the drug war homeland remain largely oblivious to the consequences of our drug policies overseas, whether it's murderous drug cartels in Mexico, murderous cops in the Philippines, barbarous forced drug treatment regimes in Russia and Southeast Asia, exemplary executions in China, or corrupted cops and politicians everywhere. But now, a couple of non-American journalists working independently have produced a pair of volumes that focus on the global drug war like a US Customs X-ray peering deep inside a cargo container. Taken together, the results are illuminating, and the light they shed reveals some very disturbing facts.

Dopeworld by Niko Vorobyov and Pills, Powder, and Smoke by Antony Loewenstein both attempt the same feat -- a global portrait of the war on drugs -- and both reach the same conclusion -- that drug prohibition benefits only drug traffickers, fearmongering politicians, and state security apparatuses -- but are miles apart attitudinally and literarily. This makes for two very different, but complementary, books on the same topic.

Loewenstein, an Australian who previously authored Disaster Capitalism and Profits of Doom, is -- duh -- a critic of capitalism who situates the global drug war within an American project of neo-imperial subjugation globally and control over minority populations domestically. His work is solid investigative reporting, leavened with the passion he feels for his subject.

In Pills, Powder, and Smoke, he visits places that rarely make the news but are deeply and negatively impacted by the US-led war on drugs, such as Honduras. Loewenstein opens that chapter with the murder of environmental activist Berta Caceres, which was not directly related to the drug war, but which illustrates the thuggish nature of the Honduran regime -- a regime that emerged after a 2009 coup overthrew the leftist president, a coup justified by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and which has received millions in US anti-drug assistance, mainly in the form of weapons and military equipment.

Honduras doesn't produce any drugs; it's only an accident of geography and the American war on drugs that we even mention the country in the context of global drug prohibition. Back in the 1980s, the administration of Bush the Elder cracked down on cocaine smuggling in the Caribbean, and as traffickers sought to evade that threat, Honduras was perfectly placed to act as a trampoline for cocaine shipments taking an alternative route through Mexico, which incidentally fueled the rise of today's deadly and uber-wealthy Mexican drug cartels.

The drug trade, combined with grinding poverty, huge income inequalities, and few opportunities, has helped turn Honduras into one of the deadliest places on earth, where the police and military kill with impunity, and so do the country's teeming criminal gangs. Loewenstein walks those mean streets -- except for a few neighborhoods even his local fixers deem too dangerous -- talking to activists, human rights workers, the family members of victims, community members, and local journalists to paint a chilling picture. (This is why Hondurans make up a large proportion of those human caravans streaming north to the US border. But unlike Venezuela, where mass flight in the face of violence and economic collapse is routinely condemned as a failure of socialism, you rarely hear any commentators calling the Honduran exodus a failure of capitalism.)

He reexamines one of the DEA's most deadly recent incidents, where four poor, innocent Hondurans were killed by Honduran troops working under DEA supervision in a raid whose parameters were covered up for years by the agency. Loewenstein engaged in extended communication with the DEA agent in charge, as well as with survivors and family members of those killed. Those people report they have never received an apology, not to mention compensation, from the Honduran military -- or from the United States. While the Honduran military fights the drug war with US dollars, Loewenstein shows it and other organs of the Honduran government are also deeply implicated in managing the drug traffic. And news headlines bring his story up to date: Just this month, the current, rightist president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, of meeting with and taking a bribe from a drug trafficker. This comes after his brother, former Honduran Senator Juan Antonio Hernández, was convicted of running tons of cocaine into the United States in a trial that laid bare the bribery, corruption, and complicity of high-level Hondurans in the drug trade, including the president.

Loewenstein also takes us to Guinea-Bissau, a West African country where 70 percent of the population subsists on less than $2 a day and whose biggest export is cashews. Or at least it was cashews. Since the early years of this century, the country has emerged as a leading destination for South American cocaine, which is then re-exported to the insatiable European market.

Plagued by decades of military coups and political instability, the country has never developed, and an Atlantic shoreline suited for mass tourism now serves mainly as a convenient destination for boatloads and planeloads of cocaine. Loewenstein visits hotels whose only clients are drug traffickers and remote fishing villages where the trade is an open secret and a source of jobs. He talks with security officials who frankly admit they have almost no resources to combat the trade, and he traces the route onward to Europe, sometimes carried by Islamic militants.

He also tells the tale of one exemplary drug bust carried out by a DEA SWAT team arguably in Guinean territorial waters that snapped up the country's former Navy minister. The DEA said he was involved in a "narco-terrorist" plot to handle cocaine shipments for Colombia's leftist FARC guerillas, who were designated as "terrorists" by the administration of Bush the Junior in a politically convenient melding of the wars on drugs and terror.

It turns out, though, there were no coke loads, and there was no FARC; there was only a DEA sting operation, with the conspiracy created out of whole cloth. While the case made for some nice headlines and showed the US hard at work fighting drugs, it had no demonstrable impact on the use of West Africa as a cocaine conduit, and it raised serious questions about the degree to which the US can impose its drug war anywhere it chooses.

Loewenstein also writes about Australia, England, and the United States, in each case setting the historical and political context, talking to all kinds of people, and laying bare the hideous cruelties of drug policies that exert their most terrible tolls on the poor and racial minorities. But he also sees glimmers of hope in things such as the movement toward marijuana legalization here and the spread of harm reduction measures in England and Australia.

He gets one niggling thing wrong, though, in his chapter on the US. He converses with Washington, DC, pot activists Alan Amsterdam and Adam Eidinger, the main movers behind DC's successful legalization initiative, but in his reporting on it, he repeatedly refers to DC as a state and once even mistakenly cites a legal marijuana sales figure from Washington state. (There are no legal sales in DC.) Yes, this is a tiny matter, but c'mon, Loewenstein is Australian, and he should know a political entity similar to Canberra, the Australian Capital Territory.

That quibble aside, Loewenstein has made a hardheaded but openhearted contribution to our understanding of the multifaceted malevolence of the never-ending war on drugs. And I didn't even mention his chapter on the Philippines. It's in there, it's as gruesome as you might expect, and it's very chilling reading.

Vorobyov, on the other hand, was born in Russia and emigrated to England as a child. He reached adulthood as a recreational drug user and seller -- until he was arrested on the London Underground and got a two-year sentence for carrying enough Ecstasy to merit a charge of possession with intent to distribute. After that interval, which he says inspired him to write his book, he got his university degree and moved back to Russia, where he picked up a gig at Russia Today before turning his talents to Dopeworld.

Dopeworld is not staid journalism. Instead, it is a twitchy mish-mash, jumping from topic to topic and continent to continent with the flip of a page, tracing the history of alcohol prohibition in the US at one turn, chatting up Japanese drug gangsters at the next, and getting hammered by ayahuasca in yet another. Vorobyov himself describes Dopeworld as "true crime, gonzo, social, historical memoir meets fucked up travel book."

Indeed. He relates his college-boy drug-dealing career with considerable panache. He parties with nihilistic middle-class young people and an opium-smoking cop in Tehran, he cops $7 grams of cocaine in Colombia and tours Pablo Escobar's house with the dead kingpin's brother as a tour guide, he has dinner with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's family in Mexico's Sinaloa state and pronounces them nice people ("really chill"), and he meets up with a vigilante killer in Manila.

Vorobyov openly says the unsayable when it comes to writing about the drug war and drug prohibition: Drugs can be fun! While Loewenstein is pretty much all about the victims, Vorobyov inhabits the global drug culture. You know: Dopeworld. Loewenstein would bemoan the utter futility of a record-breaking seizure of a 12-ton load of cocaine; Vorobyov laments, "that's 12 tons of cocaine that will never be snorted."

Vorobyov is entertaining and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and he brings a former dope dealer's perspective to bear. He's brash and breezy, but like Loewenstein, he's done his homework as well as his journalistic fieldwork, and the result is fascinating. To begin to understand what the war on drugs has done to people and countries around the planet, this pair of books makes an essential introduction. And two gripping reads.

Dopeworld: Adventures in the Global Drug Trade by Niko Vorobyov (August 2020, St. Martin's Press, hardcover, 432 pp., $29.99)

Pills, Powder, and Smoke: Inside the Bloody War on Drugs by Antony Loewenstein (November 2019, Scribe, paperback, 368 pp., $19.00)

Chronicle AM: MLB Drug Testing Accord, US Charges Former Mexican Top Cop for Cartel Bribes, More... (12/12/19)

Major League Baseball and its players' union have reached a drug testing agreement, Wisconsin's GOP Senate leader kills a medical marijuana bill, and more.

Major League Baseball players will no longer be tested for marijuana, but now will be tested for opioids. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Kansas Residents Want Marijuana Legalization, Poll Finds. The annual Kansas Speaks survey, conducted by Fort Hayes State University, finds that 63% of respondents either "strongly support" or "somewhat support" legalizing and taxing marijuana for adult use. Only 26% "somewhat oppose" or "strongly oppose" it. The state doesn't even have legal medical marijuana yet.

Medical Marijuana

Wisconsin GOP Senate Leader Snuffs Out GOP Medical Marijuana Bill. Republicans Rep. Mary Felzowski and Sen. Kathy Bernier tried Wednesday to get a medical marijuana bill moving, only to be shot down by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald once again rejected the bill, saying he personally opposed and that he didn't think it would pass the GOP-controlled Senate.

Drug Testing

Major League Baseball, Players Union Agree on Drug Testing Policy. Major League Baseball and the players' union have agreed on a new drug testing policy that will add opioid testing for major leaguers and will not punish either minor or major league players for marijuana use. The move comes five months after the death of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs from an opioid overdose.

International

US Charges Former Mexican Top Cop with Taking Sinaloa Cartel Bribes. The US has charged former Mexican federal police overseer Genaro Garcia Luna with taking millions of dollars in bribes from Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel. He was arrested Monday in Texas after being indicted last week by a federal grand jury in Brooklyn on three counts of cocaine trafficking conspiracy and one count of making false statements for helping the cartel operate "with impunity" in Mexico. Garcia Luna served as Mexico's secretary of public security from 2006 to 2012 and has been living in the United States since 2012. If convicted, he faces a minimum of 10 years in prison and the maximum of a life sentence.

Chronicle AM: Luxembourg Set to Be First in Europe to Legalize Marijuana, Honduras "Narco" President Protests, More... (8/7/19)

Luxembourg is moving to be the first European country to legalize marijuana, Hondurans take to the streets to protest their "narco" president, a New Mexico judge opens the state's medical marijuana program to out-of-staters, and more.

Tegucigalpa
Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Judge Broadens Medical Marijuana Program. A New Mexico judge has ordered state officials to issue medical marijuana cards to all qualifying patients, including those who live outside the state. The ruling came in response to an emergency petition filed by patients, after authorities failed to act on a state law which took effect in June that removed the state residency requirement.

Utah Supreme Court Rejects Bid to Overturn State Law That Replaced Prop 2. The state Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a petition that sought to overturn the state law that replaced Proposition 2, the ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana. The legal challenge, filed by a group called The People's Right, aimed to restore Proposition 2 as it was approved by voters in November. But while the petition was unsuccessful, other supporters of the ballot initiative say they are optimistic that the law will see changes in the next legislative session.

International

Hondurans Protest Against "Narco" President. Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Tegucigalpa Tuesday to demand the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernandez after US federal prosecutors filed court documents alleging his 2013 presidential bid was partly funded by drug trafficking money. Riot police clashed with demonstrators while attempting to disperse angry crowds with tear gas and water cannons. "The narco must go, JOH must go!" protesters chanted. Hernandez is a conservative ally of the US.

Luxembourg Set to Become First European Nation to Legalize Marijuana. Health Minister Etienne Schneider has confirmed plans to legalize marijuana, saying that residents 18 and over should be able to use and purchase it within two years. Draft legislation is expected to be unveiled later this year. Schneider said the legislation would likely include a ban on non-residents buying it, in a bid to discourage drug tourism, and that personal cultivation would also likely be prohibited.

Mexico's President-Elect Looks for Ways to End the Drug Wars [FEATURE]

Last Sunday, leftist politician Andres Manuel López Obrador -- often referred to with the acronymic AMLO -- won the Mexican presidency in a landslide. When he takes office in December, with his party in control of both houses of the Mexican Congress, Mexico's drug policies are likely to see some radical changes.

AMLO in front of picture of his favorite Mexican president, Benito Juarez (Creative Commons)
Just what AMLO does will have significant consequences on both sides of the border. His policies will impact how much heroin and cocaine make it to the streets of America, as well as how many Mexicans flee north to escape prohibition-related violence, and how much drug money flows back into Mexico, corrupting politicians, police, and the military.

That AMLO -- and Mexico -- want change is no surprise. A vigorous campaign against the country's powerful and violent drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- unleashed by rightist president Felipe Calderon in 2006 brought the Mexican military into the fight, but instead of defeating the cartels, the campaign, still ongoing under President Enrique Pena Nieto, has instead led to record levels of corruption and violence.

In 2012, when both the U.S. and Mexico had presidential elections and the drug war death toll was around 15,000, Mexico's drug prohibition-related violence was big news north of the border. But in the years since then, as US attention to Mexico's drug wars wavered, it's only gotten worse. Last year, Mexico saw more than 30,000 murders, and the cumulative drug war toll in the past dozen years is more than 200,000 dead and tens of thousands of "disappeared."

But the toll runs deeper than just a count of the casualties. The relentless drug war violence and the endemic corruption of police forces, politicians, and even sectors of the military by cartels have had a deeply corrosive effect on the citizenry and its belief in the ability of the country's political institutions to address the problem.

López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City, campaigned heavily on the need for change, especially around drug policy, corruption, and public safety. "Abrazos, no balazos" ("hugs, not gunfights") was one of his favorite campaign slogans. AMLO campaigned cautiously, hammering away at crime, corruption, and violence and mentioning different drug policy-related changes, but not coming out with specific policy proposals. Still, from his own remarks and those of people who will be assuming key positions in his administration, we can begin to sketch an outline of what those policies may look like.

Marijuana Legalization

Mexico is one of the world's largest marijuana producers (although the local industry has been taking a hit in recent years from completion north of the border), it has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of the herb, and it has legalized medical marijuana.

AMLO's pick for interior minister, former Supreme Court official Olga Sánchez Cordero has made no secret of her plans to seek full legalization and said this week that AMLO may seek a public referendum to gauge popular support for it. "Why maintain pot prohibition when Canada and US states are legalizing it, she said. "What are we thinking? Tell me. Killing ourselves. Really, keep on killing when... North America is decriminalizing?"

Drug Legalization

The possession of personal use amounts of all drugs has been decriminalized in Mexico since 2009, but that hasn't stopped the violence. AMLO and his advisors say he is open to considering taking the next step and legalizing all drugs.

"We'll analyze everything and explore all the avenues that will let us achieve peace. I don't rule out anything, not even legalization -- nothing," AMLO told the New Yorker during the campaign.

"The war on drugs has failed," wrote Sánchez Cordero. "Nothing contributes to peace by legislating on the basis of more criminal punishment and permanent confrontation. Violence is not fought with violence, as López Obrador rightly points out."

Drug legalization would be a radical step, indeed. It probably isn't going to happen under AMLO, since that would pit Mexico not only against the US, but also against the international anti-drug treaties that serve as the legal backbone of global drug prohibition. But he is putting the idea squarely on the table.

Amnesty

As a candidate, AMLO floated the idea of amnesty for those involved in the drug trade, a notion that created huge controversy and forced his campaign to clarify that it did not mean cutting deals with bloody-handed cartel leaders or their henchmen. Instead, his campaign clarified, he was referring to peasants growing drug crops and other low-level, nonviolent workers in the illicit business.

"Kidnappers? No," said Sánchez Cordero about possible amnesty recipients. "Who? The people working in rural areas, who are criminals because they work in the illegal drug business, but haven't committed crimes such as murder or kidnapping."

Mexican soldiers have been enlisted to fight the drug war. AMLO wants them to return to the barracks. (Creative Commons)
Demilitarization and Policing Reforms

For the past 12 years, the Mexican military has been called on to fight the cartels and suppress the drug trade. But the level of violence has only increased, the military is implicated in massive human rights violations (as can only be expected when a government resorts to soldiers to do police work), and finds itself subject to the same corrupting influences that have turned state and local police forces into virtual arms of the competing cartels.

With regard to cartel violence, AMLO repeatedly said on the campaign trail that "you don't fight fire with fire" and that what was needed was not soldiers on the streets, but social and economic assistance for the country's poor and unemployed -- to give them options other than going to work for drug gangs. Just this week, AMLO announced a $5 billion package of scholarships and job training support for the young.

Still, AMLO isn't going to send the soldiers back to the barracks immediately. Instead, says one of his security advisors, his goal is to do it over the next three years. He has also proposed replacing the military presence in the drug war with a 300,000-person National Guard, composed of both military and police, a notion that has been bruited by earlier administrations as a means of effectively replacing tainted state and local police participation.

Here, AMLO is not nearly as radical as with some of his other drug policy proposals. He as much as concedes that the bloody drug wars will continue.

"I'm not overwhelmed by any of it," Eric L. Olson, an expert on Mexico and security at the Wilson Center in Washington, told the Washington Post. "It falls well within the norm for what other politicians have been saying."

The US-Mexico Relationship

Over the past couple of Mexican administrations, Mexican security agencies have cooperated closely with their U.S. counterparts in the DEA and FBI. It's not clear whether that level of cooperation will be sustained under AMLO. When he was running for president in 2012, he called for blocking US intelligence work in Mexico, but during this campaign, he insisted he wanted a strong relationship with the US on security and trade issues.

While Mexico may chafe under the continued threats and insults of President Trump, it benefits from security cooperation with the US and would like to see the US do more, especially about the flow of guns south across the border.

"We are going to ask for the cooperation of the United States" on gun trafficking, said Alfonso Durazo, one of AMLO's security advisers, repeating an ongoing refrain from Mexican politicians.

Mexico has also benefited from DEA intelligence that allowed it to kill or capture numerous cartel figures. But AMLO is a much pricklier personality than his predecessor, and between Trump's racist Mexico- and immigrant-bashing and his imposition of tariffs on Mexican exports, US-Mexico relations could be in for a bumpy few years. AMLO's moves on changing drug policies at home are also likely to sustain fire from the White House, further inflaming tensions.

"The bottom line is he's not going to fight the drug war in the way that it's been fought in the last few decades," David Shirk, a professor at the University of San Diego who is an expert on security issues in Mexico told the Post. "That is potentially a huge change."

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Chronicle AM: Non-Binding Legalization Votes, Iran Expecting Fewer Drug Executions, More... (3/1/18)

A non-binding referendum on marijuana legalization has been approved by the Illinois Senate, another such referendum bill has just been filed in Rhode Island, the Iranian justice minister said drug executions will drop dramatically, the president nominates members to the Sentencing Commission, and more.

Iran's new drug policies should result in a "dramatic" decrease in drug executions like this.
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Report Fails to Win Task Force Approval for Release. A final report on issues surrounding marijuana legalization failed to win approval from a legislative and state official task force, but one Democratic legislator said it will be made available to the General Assembly anyway. Only 12 of the 25 task force members voted to release the report; all state cabinet representatives either were absent or abstained. Gov. John Carney (D) has said he opposes legalization.

Illinois Senate Approves Non-Binding Legalization Referendum. The Senate voted 37-13 Thursday to put a non-binding marijuana legalization referendum on the November ballot. The measure, Senate Bill 2275, now heads to the House. The question voters would be asked is: "Shall the State of Illinois legalize the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products for recreational use by adults 21 and older subject to state regulation, taxation and local ordinance?"

Rhode Island Bill to Put Non-Binding Legalization Referendum Before Voters Filed. Rep. Scott Slater (D-District 10) filed a bill Wednesday that would put the question of legalizing marijuana before the voters in a non-binding referendum. House Bill 7883 would ask voters: "Do you support the legalization of possession and use of marijuana by persons who are at least 21 years of age, subject to regulation and taxation that is similar to the regulation and taxation of tobacco and alcohol?"

Baton Rouge Moves Toward Decriminalization. The East Baton Rouge Metro Council voted Wednesday night approved a measure that would direct police to only issue summonses to people caught with less than 14 grams of weed, with the only punishment being a $40 fine, with the fine going up $20 for each subsequent offense. Under current law, those folks are looking at six months in jail. If signed by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, the new law goes into effect in 30 days.

Sentencing

Trump Nominates Sentencing Commission Members. On Thursday, President Trump announced he intended to nominate five people to the US Sentencing Commission, which sets guidelines for federal sentencing. He named Judge William Pryor of Arkansas, who already sits on the commission, to be Acting Chairman. Of the four other nominees, three are sitting federal judges and one is a Georgetown University law professor who has raised eyebrows for his support of mandatory minimums.

Rhode Island Bill Would Impose Life Sentences for Drug Overdose Deaths House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has filed House Bill 7715, which could create life sentences for people convicted of providing drugs to persons who suffered a fatal overdose. Under current state law, anyone convicted of providing drugs to a minor who overdoses an dies can get a life sentence; this bill would expand that to include life sentences no matter the age of the victim. "Anyone who is preying on individuals with an addiction, regardless of age, should be held responsible. This is not a crime restricted to the sale of drugs to a minor," Mattiello said.>

Washington State County Will Stop Prosecuting Small-Time Drug Possessors. Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe has announced that his office will no longer prosecute people caught with less than two grams of any illicit drug. He said the prosecutions are time-consuming, he doesn't have enough prosecutors to keep up, and the prosecutions do little to stop drug use. Snohomish County lies between Seattle and the Canadian border.

International

Iran Justice Minister Expects Fewer Executions Under Revised Drug Law. Justice Minister Ali Reza Avai told the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday that he expects to see drug executions shrink after reforms in the Islamic Republic's criminal code aiming to be more efficient and safeguard the rights of the accused were adopted. "In this context the counter-narcotics law was amended. As a result, executions related to drug crimes will decrease remarkably," he predicted. Iran has been one of the world's leading drug executioners.

Mexican Police Accused of Death Squad Tactics Against Drug Suspects. Prosecutors in the state of Veracruz have charged 19 police officers, including some commanders of a special anti-drug unit, of kidnapping, torturing, and murdering at least 15 people in the area. Police in marked cars would pick up suspects, but not record the arrests, instead turning them over to specialized interrogation and torture squads working at the policy academy. They were later killed and their bodies disposed of. The charges are an important step in addressing festering impunity for official crimes in the drug war. "This is the first time they have charged people in significant numbers and of significant rank and demonstrated that there was an organized, structured governmental apparatus that had an agreed-on, systemic method to carry out a policy of disappearing people," said Juan Carlos Gutiérrez, a lawyer who specializes in human rights cases. The groundbreaking thing is that prosecutors built a case by demonstrating there was a whole governmental structure that was designed to disappear people," he told the Guardian.

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