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Chronicle AM: HHS Sec Says "No Such Thing" as MedMJ, OR Opioid Treatment Bill, More... (3/5/18)

Seattle will join San Francisco is expunging past petty pot possession convictions, the HHS secretary denies the reality of medical marijuana, the DOJ wants to toughen up a bill aimed at opioid makers and distributors, Colombia and the US reach an agreement on drug policy goals, and more.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar, formerly of Eli Lilly, says "there is no such thing as medical marijuana." (Wikipedia)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Pot Legalization Hearing Today. The Assembly Oversight Committee is holding a hearing today on marijuana legalization, the first step in getting a legalization bill through the legislature. Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D) has filed Senate Bill 380, which would legalize the possession of small amounts of pot and allow for taxed and regulated sales, but other bills could also be filed, including bills that only decriminalize—not legalize—marijuana.

Oregon Senate Approves Bill to Fund Enforcement Against Black Market Operations. The state Senate voted last Friday to approve Senate Bill 1544, which would create the Illegal Marijuana Market Enforcement Grant Program within the Criminal Justice Commission. The program would offer $1.5 million a year over six years to help local governments with costs incurred in going after illicit cultivation and production. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Seattle to Expunge Misdemeanor Pot Possession Convictions. Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes announced last Thursday that they will clear the records of people who were prosecuted for misdemeanor pot possession prior to the legalization of marijuana in 2012. The city estimates some 500 to 600 convictions dating back to 1977 will be overturned.

Medical Marijuana

Health and Human Services Secretary Says "No Such Thing" as Medical Marijuana. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar refused last Friday to acknowledge that marijuana has any medicinal uses. In response to a question at an Ohio press conference about opioids about the role of medical marijuana in treating them, he replied: "There really is no such thing as medical marijuana," he said at an Ohio press conference on opioids. "There is no FDA-approved use of marijuana, a botanical plant. I just want to be very clear about that."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Justice Department Wants Congress to Stiffen Opioid Legislation. In a letter last Wednesday to the head of a congressional committee investigating the opioid industry, Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd urged Congress to rewrite a bill passed with the pharmaceutical industry's blessing that the DEA says undermines its efforts to go after companies suspected of violating the drug laws. The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act was pushed through Congress in 2016 by a small group of lawmakers backed by drug companies, including then Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), who was forced to back away from a nomination to head the drug czar's office after a CBS News investigative report on the law last fall.

Oregon House Approves Opioid Treatment Access Bill. The House last Thursday approved House Bill 4143, which "requires Director of Department of Consumer and Business Services to study barriers to effective treatment for and recovery from substance use disorders, including addictions to opioids and opiates, and to report and make recommendations to Legislative Assembly not later than June 30, 2018." The bill now goes to Gov. Kate Brown (D) for her signature.

Pennsylvania Governor Says State Will Ease Access to Opioid Treatment Medications. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) announced last Thursday that the state is ending a policy that slowed treatment for people addicted to opioids. The state's Medicaid program will no longer require doctors to get prior approval when prescribing drugs such as Suboxone and Vivitrol, used in what's known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT). "MATs work — they’re part of an overall strategy that can help all kinds of people," Wolf said. "This step that I’m announcing today is going to increase access to this lifesaving treatment for those who suffer from substance use disorder across the commonwealth."

Foreign Policy

US, Colombia Agree to Expand Anti-Drug Cooperation, Set Goal of 50% Coca Reduction. The United States and Colombia reached an agreement last Friday on cooperation in their joint anti-drug campaigns. The two countries pledged to expand their anti-drug cooperation, which has as an expressed goal or reducing the country's coca and cocaine production by 50% by 2023.

Chronicle AM: Trump Wants to Execute Drug Dealers, Brazil Drug War Targets Rio Slums, More... (2/26/18)

The president makes downright scary remarks about killing drug dealers, the Brazilian army and cops roar into Rio's favelas, California's Democratic Party reaffirms its support of legal pot, and more.

Iranian drug executions -- Trump's solution to the drug problem? (
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Bill Snuffed Out. A bill that would have legalized marijuana in the state was snuffed out last week by House Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Chairman Eddie Farnswoth (R-Chandler). The measure, House Concurrent Resolution 2037 would, if passed, have put the issue directly before voters in a referendum.

California Democrats Reaffirm Commitment to Legal Marijuana, Diss Anti-Pot Feinstein. Meeting over the weekend, the California Democratic Party approved numerous platform planks in support of marijuana legalization, including one that says they "support the ongoing legalization, regulation, and taxation of cannabis in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol, while prioritizing the health, education, and safety of California's communities and the country over revenue or profits." In other action, the state party failed to provide its endorsement to Sen. Diane Feinstein, who has lagged far behind other state Democrats when it comes to marijuana policy.

Maine Legalization Implementation Bill Kills Off Social Clubs, Tax Revenue Sharing. The Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee took a final vote on the overhauled implementation bill Friday. The final version of the bill contains no provision for marijuana social clubs, nor does it allow for the sharing of marijuana tax revenues to the state with localities that allow marijuana businesses. The excise tax on wholesale marijuana is set at 21.5%, or about $335 a pound at current prices. The measure will go before the whole legislature in a few weeks.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Could Be Delayed to 2019 or 2020. At a press conference last Friday, Cincinnati businessman Jimmy Gould, the man behind the failed 2015 "monopoly marijuana" legalization initiative, said his plans to get another initiative on the ballot may not come to fruition this year. He said language for the proposed measure was not yet set and the initiative may not appear on the ballot until 2019 or 2020. The deadline to hand in enough vote signatures to qualify for the ballot this year is July 4.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The House Health and Welfare Committee has approved House Bill 577, which would legalize the possession of low-THC CBD oil for medical use. The bill advanced despite the opposition of law enforcement and the Idaho Office of Drug Policy. It now heads for a House floor vote.


Trump Says He Wants to Execute All Drug Dealers. President Trump has been making some disturbing authoritarian and blood-thirsty private remarks about what he'd like to do to drug dealers, according to a new report from Axios. Worse yet, his dark fulminations may foreshadow some repressive policy prescriptions not too far down the road. Trump seems obsessed with fighting drugs, according to the Axios report. It cites five sources who've spoken with Trump on the subject who say "he often leaps into a passionate speech about how drug dealers are as bad as serial killers and should all get the death penalty" and that softer approaches to drug reform will never work.

Arizona Bill Would Impose Mandatory Minimums on First Time Heroin, Fentanyl Sellers. A bill that would create five-year mandatory minimum sentences for first-time heroin and fentanyl sellers passed the House last week. House Bill 2241 now heads to the Senate.


Brazilian Army, Rio de Janeiro Cops in Massive Anti-Drug Operation. The army and the state police have launched a massive anti-drug operation in several favelas (shantytowns) on the west side of the city, military spokesmen announced last Friday. More than 3,000 soldiers and police are taking part in the operations in Vila Alianca, Coreija, and Vila Kennedy. In the latter, there have been at least 13 shoot outs between drug traffickers and police since January. The operation started just days after an army sergeant and police commander were killed there last week.

Colombia Coca-Country Clashes Are Creating Refugee Flows. Three-way fighting between rightist paramilitaries, leftist ELN guerrillas, and the Colombian military in the coca-rich Bajo Cauca region some 80 miles north of Medellin has displaced some 1,500 people already, with the prospect of more to come. "The clashes between the armed groups continue to cause fear amongst the indigenous communities and rural populations," said the Norwegian Refugee Council, which is assisting victims of the violence.

Manila Demonstrators Protest Philippines Drug War. Thousands of marchers organized by Catholic groups took to the streets of Manila Saturday in a "walk for life" to protest the thousands of killings that have occurred under President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody crackdown on drugs. "We will not tire in walking for life even if the path ahead is winding and soaked in blood," Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.

Philippines Police Kill Ten in Night of Bloody Drug Raids. In the single bloodiest night of the country's drug war since police resumed participation in December, police said they killed 10 suspected drug dealers and arrested 63 more last Wednesday night. The operations took place in Bulacan, north of Manila, the capital. Police said the suspects were killed in eight separate towns during 45 "buy-bust" incidents.

Chronicle AM: Alcohol, Drug, Suicide Deaths at Record High, Colombia Coca Violence, More... (2/23/18)

An MJ decrim bill moves in Alabama, an asset forfeiture reform bill moves in Kansas, a new report tallies the toll of rising drug, alcohol, and suicide deaths, another report warns of problems in Colombia, and more.

There's trouble in the coca fields of Colombia (
Marijuana Policy

Alabama Senate Committee Advances Marijuana Decriminalization Bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to approve Senate Bill 251, which would decriminalize the possession of less than two ounces of marijuana. But at the same time, the House Judiciary Committee defeated a similar bill, House Bill 272. The Senate bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Bill to Block Awarding of Medical Marijuana Business Licenses Filed. State Sen. Bill Coley (R-West Chester) has filed a bill to temporarily halt the issuance of licenses for growers, processors, and testers to allow fixes with what he has identified as problems with the system. The move comes as lawsuits by entities not awarded licenses are underway and as others have criticized aspects of the selection process. Coley's bill is not yet available on the legislative web site.

Asset Forfeiture

Kansas House Approves Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The House on Thursday gave final approval to House Bill 2459, which doesn't end civil asset forfeiture, but would impose stricter reporting requirements on all law enforcement agencies. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Public Health

Report: Alcohol, Drug, Suicide Deaths Hit New High. A new report shows that 2016 saw the highest-ever number of US deaths tied to alcohol, drugs and suicide. Deaths attributed to the three causes rose by 11%, according to the "Pain in the Nation" report, to total a record-high 142,000. Alcohol related deaths have increased at a rate of 40% over the past decade, while deaths from synthetic opioids roughly doubled between 2015 and 2016, to nearly 20,000.


Criminal Violence Threatens Colombia Drug Crop Substitution: Report. A new report from Colombian Ideas for Peace Foundation warns that homicide rates have jumped substantially in municipalities that are taking part in coca eradication program. The killings highlight the fragility of the government's eradication plan in the face of intensified violence among the country's fragmented criminal groups.

Time Runs Out on British Parliament Debate on Marijuana Reform. Labor MP Paul Flynn's bill on marijuana law reform, which was set for parliamentary debate Friday, didn't get it. Instead, his colleagues on both sides of the aisle took so long debating other private members' bills that they ran out of time to take up the issue. An astounded Flynn accused MPs of filibustering, sparking an angry retort from the speaker's chair. Flynn was pushing especially for a way to make medical marijuana available in the country.

Chronicle AM: DC Demo on Philippine Drug War Next Week, BC Drug Decrim March, More... (2/21/18)

Ohio's medical marijuana program may have just hit a bump, hemp could be coming to Utah, drug users march for decriminalization in Vancouver, demonstrators will gather in DC next week to protest the Philippines drug war, and more.

Demonstrators call for an end to the Philippines drug war and the freedom of of one of Duterte's leading critics. (Facebook)
Medical Marijuana

Ohio Lawsuit Challenges Grow License Process. A lawsuit filed Tuesday by would-be medical marijuana grow operators who weren't picked for the large grow licenses issued by the state Department of Commerce threatens to disrupt the rollout of the program. The growers are suing the department, the officials involved in grading application, and all the businesses that won licenses. They charge they weren't treated fairly in the licensing process.

West Virginia Regulators Will Recommend Allowing Smokeable Medical Marijuana. The state medical marijuana board announced Tuesday that it plans to recommend to lawmakers that some patients be allowed to use marijuana in a smokeable form. The board will also recommend removing or increasing the cap on the number of growers, processors, and dispensaries in the state and allowing one company to take on more than one of those roles.

Industrial Hemp

Utah Hemp Bill Advances. A bill that would allow the production and sale of hemp products in the state is headed for a House floor vote after being approved Tuesday by the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee. House Bill 302 authorizes the state Department of Agriculture and Food to provide a hemp-growing license to "a person who wishes to participate in an industrial hemp research pilot program," according to a summary attached to the bill. The bill also allows those who would like to produce and sell hemp-based products "to distribute the registered hemp product in the state" if they obtain the license from the state to do so.

Asset Forfeiture

Wisconsin Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Passes Senate. The state Senate has approved Senate Bill 61, which does not end civil asset forfeiture, but puts limits on how long police can hold property before someone is charged and reduce the amount of money police can keep when they sell seized property. The measure now heads for the Assembly.

Foreign Policy

Trump Budget Would Cut Aid to Colombia in Half. The White House's proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget would slash foreign assistance to Columbia by nearly half, even as the country struggles to implement a peace deal with leftist FARC rebels and address a record-breaking level of coca planting and cocaine production. The budget would reduce funds "to implement sustainable peace" in the "most affected zones" of the country's drug prohibition-fueled armed conflict from $180 million to $100 million. The budget also seeks a reduction of one-third in funding for the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement program. Colombia is a major recipient of aid under that program, too. The Washington Office on Latin America said the budget proposal would "squander an historic opportunity to help Colombia avoid a resurgence of criminal violence, while Insight Crime noted that "large cuts in aid could prove detrimental to efforts aimed at improving security conditions in… crime-wracked countries" like Colombia.


Vancouver Drug Users March to Demand Drug Decriminalization. Several hundred drug users and supporters took to the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside to demand that the federal government change its drug policies and embrace drug decriminalization. The protest, part of a national day of action across the country, was organized by the Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs (CAPUD), the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and other groups. Decriminalization would "allow people to use drugs more safely without fear of arrest and detention," said Caitlin Shane, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society who specializes in drug policy.

DC Demonstration Against Philippine Drug War Killings Set for Next Wednesday. On Wednesday, February 28th, please join Filipino Americans, drug policy reformers and other human rights defenders to call for an end to extrajudicial killings and for Senator de Lima to be freed. We will rally from noon to 1:00pm in front of the Philippines Embassy, 1600 Massachusetts Avenue NW in Washington, DC. Among other things, the event will feature a street theater performance in which attendees will symbolically free a Senator de Lima figure from a realistic mobile model of a prison cell. Please email David Borden at [email protected] to get involved in preparations for this demonstration or for other information, and please spread the word!

Chronicle AM: San Francisco SIJs Coming Soon, House Dems Want Pot Hearing, More... (2/6/18)

Safe injection sites are coming to San Francisco, House Democrats want a hearing on Sessions' backwards-looking marijuana policies, CBD bills pass in Indiana and Virginia, and more.

Kellyanne Conway. This is who is effectively running White House opioid policy. (Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

House Judiciary Committee Democrats Demand Hearing on Sessions Marijuana Policy. In a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), eleven Democratic members of the committee called on him to hold a hearing of the full committee to discuss recent moves by Attorney General Sessions to roll back laissez-faire Obama-era policies regarding enforcement of federal drug laws in marijuana-legal states. In the letter, the Democrats said they feared new Justice Department policies "will promote an inefficient use of limited taxpayer resources and subvert the will of voters who have clearly indicated a preference for legalized marijuana in their states."

Delaware's Governor Remains Opposed to Marijuana Legalization. After months of meeting with legalization supporters, Gov. John Carney (D) has rebuffed their efforts to get him on board. "There are a lot of people who are pushing that. I don't think it's a good idea to be out ahead of that, [to be] one of the lead states there," Carney told WHYY-TV. "I've talked to my colleagues, governors from Colorado and the state of Washington, and they talk about some of the unintended negative consequences." While he did not say he would veto a legalization bill, he remains strongly opposed: "I just don't think we ought to be a leader there. Again, as we're trying to strengthen our workforce, create an environment where companies can be successful to make Delaware stronger, I don't think that will do it."

California Bill Would Allow For Consumption at Special Events. Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) has filed a bill that would allow for the sale and consumption at temporary special events. Assembly Bill 2020 would allow a state agency to issue temporary event licenses allowing sales and consumption. "These events support local economies and small businesses," Quirk said in a statement. "Despite the fiscal and communal benefits such events bring to a city or local community, current law prohibits local governments from approving applications for cannabis sales at special events if they are held anywhere but county property," he added. The measure is also sponsored by the city of Oakland.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Senate Joins House in Passing CBD Bill. The Senate voted 35-13 Monday to approve Senate Bill 294, which would allow any state resident to purchase and use CBD cannabis oil. Similar legislation passed the House last week on a unanimous vote.

Virginia Senate Passes CBD Bill. The Senate voted unanimously Monday to approve Senate Bill 726, which would allow doctors to recommend the use of CBD cannabis oil or THC-A oil. The House passed a companion bill, also unanimously, last Friday. The bill now awaits the governor's signature.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Drug Czar's Office Frozen Out of Trump Administration's War on Opioids. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has effectively taken control of the administration's opioids agenda, largely sidelining the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), according to a report in Politico. The report says Conway is "quietly freezing out drug policy professionals and relying instead on political staff to address" the opioid crisis. The main response so far has been to demand a border wall and to suggest a sort of "just say no" program. The administration is expected to propose massive cuts in the drug czar's office this month.

West Virginia Governor Sets New Plan, Names New Drug Policy Director. Gov. Jim Justice (D) said Monday the state will take a different approach to the opioid crisis by focusing a pilot program on two of the state's hardest hit counties. Justice said there wasn't enough funding to fight the crisis in all 55 counties, but that statewide efforts would continue. "We know that everything we've tried so far has failed," he said. Justice also announced the appointment of Dr. Michael Brumage as the new director of the state Office of Drug Control Policy.

Drug Testing

Vermont GOP Bill Would Require Drug Screening, Testing for Public Assistance. House Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton) has filed a bill, House Bill 866, that would require people seeking public assistance to undergo screening for substance abuse and undergo drug testing if the screening process suggests drug use. Those who failed drug tests cold still receive assistance if they agreed to and completed drug treatment, but refusing treatment or failing to complete it would result in loss of benefits.

Harm Reduction

San Francisco Should See Safe Injection Sites by July.San Francisco Department of Public Health Director Barbara Garcia said Monday the city is on track to open its first two safe injection sites around the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1. She said she is working with six to eight nonprofits that already operate needle exchanges and other drug addiction services and will choose two of them to open safe injection sites. The sites will initially be privately funded, which will help the city avoid liability, since intravenous drug use is a crime under both state and federal law. Opening the sites will not require the approval of the city's Board of Supervisors or other city officials, she said.


British Columbia Sets More Legal Pot Rules. The provincial government announced Sunday that marijuana will not be sold in the same stores as alcohol and that in urban areas, licensed retailers would only be able to sell marijuana and accessories -- not other products, such as food, gas, clothing, and lottery tickets. Rural areas will qualify for exceptions to the general rule. Also, people 19 and over will be able to possess up to 30 grams in public, and smoking will generally be allowed in public spaces where smoking is allowed. Adults will be able to grow up to four plants per household, but landlords will be able to bar tenants from growing.

Colombia Says Armed Groups Impeding Coca Crop Substitution. Colombian Post-Conflict Minister Rafael Pardo said Sunday that illegal armed groups are impeding the country's efforts to replace illicit coca crops with legal ones. The comments came after a United Nations verification team was attacked last week by dissident FARC guerrillas. Pardo also pointed a finger at Marxist ELN guerrillas. Both groups, as well as rightist paramiitaries, continue to try to benefit from the illicit coca and cocaine trade.

Chronicle AM: NH House Passes Marijuana Legalization, CO Safe Injection Site Sought, More... (1/9/18)

Attorney General Sessions' announcement last week of a possible renewed war on marijuana continues to reverberate, the New Hampshire House passes a bill to legalize possession and cultivation, but not sales; Colorado lawmakers want a safe injection site as part of their response to the opioid crisis, and more.

New Hampshire, live free and high
Marijuana Policy

Colorado GOP Senator, Sessions to Meet This Week. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who took to the Senate floor last week to denounce Attorney General Sessions' move to end the Obama administration's laissez-faire approach to state-legal marijuana, will meet with Sessions later this week. Neither Gardner's office nor the Justice Department would supply any more details, although it's safe to speculate that marijuana policy will be on the agenda.

Massachusetts US Attorney Will Not Rule Out Going After Marijuana Businesses. US Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling has said he will not rule out prosecuting businesses involved with marijuana. Lelling suggested supporters of legal marijuana should just get it legalized: "Deciding, in advance, to immunize a certain category of actors from federal prosecution would be to effectively amend the laws Congress has already passed, and that I will not do,"  Lelling said in a statement. "The kind of categorical relief sought by those engaged in state-level marijuana legalization efforts can only come from the legislative process."

New Hampshire House Votes to Legalize Possession and Cultivation But Not Sales. The House voted 183-162 Tuesday morning to approve House Bill 656, which would legalize the possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana and allow individuals to grow up to three plants. The vote came after the House amended the bill to remove provisions allowing for legal, taxed, and regulated marijuana sales. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Colorado Lawmakers Have Package of Bills to Fight Opioid Crisis, Including Safe Injection Site. A bipartisan committee of lawmakers has crafted a package of six bills aimed at curbing the opioid crisis in the state. One bill would limit initial prescriptions of opioids to just seven days; another would make naloxone available at public schools; another would take $3 million from marijuana tax revenues to fund education for doctors on pain management; but the most controversial would allow for a safe injection site to operate in Denver.


Canada's Saskatchewan Will Have Privately Owned Marijuana Stores. The provincial government announced Monday that legal marijuana will be sold by private operators issued marijuana retail licenses by the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority. Retail stores will initially be allocated in areas of the province with more than 2,500 people, with some 40 municipalities and Indian reservations on the list. Saskatoon, the province's largest city, will eventually receive more licenses.

Colombia Sends 2,000 Troops to Restive Coca Port Town. More than 2,000 soldiers flew into the Pacific port town of Tumaco Monday to try to tamp down rising violence that has left more than 240 people dead in the past year. Tumaco is the municipality with the most coca cultivation of any in the country and has seen conflict between rival armed groups involved in the coca and cocaine trade, as well as attacks by traffickers on farmers who have participated in the government's coca crop substitution program.

Looking Back: The Biggest International Drug Policy Stories of the Past 20 Years [FEATURE]

With a thousand issues of Drug War Chronicle under our belts, we look back on the biggest international drug and drug policy stories of the past 20 years. (A companion piece looks at the biggest US domestic drug policy stories.) Here's what we find:

The 1998 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs. We've made some progress since then. (Creative Commons)
1. Global Prohibitionist Consensus Starts to Crumble

In 1998, the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), with anti-prohibitionist voices in the room but metaphorically on the outside, pledged itself to eradicating drugs in 10 years. That didn't happen. Now, nearly 20 years later, it is duly chastened, and the chorus of critics is much louder, but the UN still remains a painfully slow place to try to make change in global drug policy.

Yet, despite the foot-dragging in Vienna and New York, albeit at a glacial pace. The 2016 UNGASS couldn't bring itself to actually say the words "harm reduction," but acknowledged the practice in its documents. It couldn't bring itself to resolve to be against the death penalty in drug cases, but a large and growing number of member states spoke out against it. It couldn't officially acknowledge that there is "widespread recognition from several quarters, including UN member states and entities and civil society, of the collateral harms of current drug policies, and that new approaches are both urgent and necessary," even though that's what the UN Development Program said. And the UN admitted to having dropped the ball on making opioid analgesics available in the developing world.

It certainly wasn't ready to talk about drug legalization in any serious fashion. But despite the rigidity within the global anti-drug bureaucracy, driven in part by the hardline positions of many Asian and Middle Eastern member states, the global prohibitionist consensus is crumbling. Many European and Latin America states are ready for a new direction, and some aren't waiting for the UN's imprimatur. Bolivia has rejected the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs' provision criminalizing the coca plant, and Canada and Uruguay have both legalized marijuana with scant regard for UN treaty prohibitions. And of course there is Portugal's broad decriminalization system, encompassing all drugs.

There's a real lesson in all of this: The UN drug treaties, the legal backbone of global drug prohibition, have proven to be toothless. There is no effective mechanism for punishing most countries for violating those treaties, at least not relative to the punishing effects they suffer from prohibition. Other countries will take heed.

2. Afghanistan Remains the World's Opium Breadbasket

When the US invaded Afghanistan in late 2001, it entered into a seemingly endless war to defeat the Taliban and, along with it, the opium trade. Sixteen years and more than a trillion dollars later, it has defeated neither. Afghanistan was already the world's leading producer of opium then, and it still is.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, in 2000, the country produced more than 3,000 tons of opium. The following year, with the Taliban imposing a ban on poppy planting in return for US aid and international approval, production dropped to near zero. But in 2002, production was back to more than 3,000 tons, and Afghan poppy farmers haven't looked back since.

In the intervening years, Afghanistan has accounted for the vast majority of global opium production, reaching 90% in 2007 before plateauing to around 70% now (as production increases in Latin America). It has consistently produced at least 3,000 tons a year, with that amount doubling in selected years.

For years, US policymakers were caught in a dilemma, and drug war imperatives were subordinated to anti-Taliban imperatives. The problem was that any attempt to go after opium threatened to push peasants into the hands of the Taliban. Now, the Trump administration is bombing Taliban heroin facilities. But it hasn't bombed any heroin facilities linked to corrupt Afghan government officials.

Holland's famous cannabis cafes were the first break with global marijuana prohibition. (Creative Commons)
3. Movement Toward Acceptance of Recreational Marijuana

Twenty years ago, only the Netherlands had come to terms -- sort of -- with marijuana, formally keeping it illegal, but, in a prime example of the Dutch's policy of gedogen (pragmatic tolerance), with possession and sale of small amounts allowed. (The Dutch are only now finally dealing with the "backdoor problem," the question of where cannabis cafes are supposed to get their supplies if it can't be grown legally).

The first entities to legalize marijuana were the US states of Colorado and Washington in 2012, and Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize marijuana in 2014. Canada will become the second country to do so next year. In the meantime, six more US states and the District of Columbia have also jumped on the bandwagon.

While full legalization may yet be a bridge too far for most European and Latin American countries, marijuana decriminalization has really taken hold there, with numerous countries in both regions having embraced the policy. Marijuana has now been decriminalized in Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia (you can possess up to 22 grams legally), Costa Rica, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Equador, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Jamaica, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and Ukraine, among others. Oh, and Iran, too.

4. Andean Whack-A-Mole: The Fruitless Quest to Quash Cocaine

The United States, and to a much lesser degree, the European Union, have spent billions of dollars trying to suppress coca leaf cultivation and cocaine production in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. It hasn't worked.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), coca leaf cultivation was just under 500,000 acres in 1998; this week, UNODC reported that coca leaf cultivation was at 470,000 acres last year -- and that's not counting the 75,000 acres under legal cultivation in Bolivia.

When it comes to actual cocaine production, it's pretty much the same story: Again according to the UNODC, cocaine production was at 825 tons in 1998, peaked at just over a million tons a year in 2004-2007, and is now at just under 800 tons. There have been peaks and troughs, but here we are, pretty much in the same place we started.

Military intervention didn't stop it. Military and anti-drug assistance hasn't stopped it. Alternative development programs haven't stopped it. The global cocaine market is insatiable, and nothing has been able to tear Andean peasant farmers from what is by far their best cash crop. Bolivia, at least, has largely made peace with coca -- although not cocaine -- providing a legal, regulated market for coca farmers, but in Peru and Colombia eradication and redevelopment efforts continue to spark conflict and social unrest.

5. Mexico's Brutal Drug Wars

During the 1980s and 1990s, accusations ran rampant that in a sort of pax mafiosi, the Mexican government cut deals with leading drug trafficking groups to not so much fight the drug trade as manage it. Those were the days of single party rule by the PRI, which ended with the election of Vicente Fox in 2000. With the end of single party rule, the era of relative peace in the drug business began to unravel.

As old arrangements between drug traffickers and political and law enforcement figures fell apart, so did the informal codes that governed trafficker behavior. When once a cartel capo would accept his exemplary arrest, during the Fox administration, the gangsters began shooting back at the cops -- and fighting among themselves over who would control which profitable franchise.

Things took a turn for the worse with the election of Felipe Calderon in 2006 and his effort to burnish his political credentials by sending in the army to fight the increasingly wealthy, violent, and brazen cartels. And they haven't gotten any better since. While American attention to Mexico's drug wars peaked in 2012 -- a presidential election year in both countries -- and while the US has thrown more than a billion dollars in anti-drug aid Mexico's way in the past few years, the violence, lawlessness, and corruption continues. The death toll is now estimated to be around 200,000, and there's no sign anything is going to change anytime soon.

Well, unless we take leading 2018 presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) at his word. This week, AMLO suggested a potential amnesty for cartel leaders, indicating, for some, at least, a pax mafiosi is better than a huge, endless pile of corpses.

6. Latin America Breaks Away from US Drug War Hegemony

The US imports its drugs and exports its prohibition-related violence, and the region grows tired of paying the price for America's war on its favorite vices. When once Latin American leaders quietly kowtowed to drug war demands from Washington, at least some of them have been singing a different tune in recent years.

Bolivia under Evo Morales has resolutely followed its own path on legalizing coca cultivation, despite bellows from Washington, successive Mexican presidents weary of the bloodshed turn an increasingly critical eye toward US drug war imperatives, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos sees what Washington-imposed prohibitionist policies have done to his county and cries out for something different, and so did Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina before he was forced out of office on corruption charges.

Latin American countries are also increasingly pursuing their own drug policies, whether it's constitutionally protected legalization of personal use amounts of drugs in Colombia, decriminalization of marijuana across the continent, or downright legalization in Uruguay, Latin American leaders are no longer taking direction from Washington -- although they generally remain happy to take US anti-drug dollars.

A North American first: Vancouver's safe injection site opened in 2003. (Creative Commons)
7.Safe Injection Sites Start Spreading

The notion of providing a place where intravenous drug users could shoot up under medical supervision and get access to referrals to public health and welfare services was derided by foes as setting up "shooting galleries" and enabling drug use, but safe injection sites have proven to be an effective intervention, linked to reduced overdoses, reduced crime, and moving drug users toward treatment.

These examples of harm reduction in practice first appeared in Switzerland in the late 1980s; with facilities popping up in Germany and the Netherlands in the 1990s; Australia, Canada, Luxembourg, Norway, and Spain in the 2000s; and, most recently, Denmark and France.

By now, there are nearly a hundred safe injection sites operating in at least 61 cities worldwide, including 30 in Holland, 16 in Germany, and eight in Switzerland. We are likely to see safe injection sites in Ireland and Scotland very soon.

It looks like they will soon be appearing in the United States, too. Officials in at least two cities, San Francisco and Seattle, are well on the way to approving them, although the posture of the federal government could prove an obstacle.

8. And Heroin Maintenance, Too

Even more forward looking as a harm reduction measure than safe injection sites, heroin maintenance (or opiate-assisted treatment) has expanded slowly, but steadily over the past two decades. The Swiss did the first trials in 1994, and now such programs are available there (after decisively winning a 2008 referendum on the issue), as well as Germany and the Netherlands.

Such programs have been found to reduce harm by helping users control their drug use, reducing overdoses, reducing drug-related disease, and promoting overall health and well-being, while also reducing social harms by reducing crime related to scoring drugs, reducing public use and drug markets, and promoting less chaotic lifestyles among participants, leading to increased social integration and better family life and employment prospects.

A Canadian pilot program, the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI) produced similar results. Maybe the United States will be ready to get it a try one of these years.

9. New Drugs, New Markets

So far, this has been the century of new drugs. Known variously as "research chemicals," "designer drugs," or fake this and that, let's call them new psychoactive substances (NSPs). Whether it's synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones, synthetic benzodiazepines, synthetic opioids, or something entirely novel, someone somewhere is producing it and selling it.

In its 2017 annual review, the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Addictions (EMCDDA) reported in was monitoring 620 NSPs, up from 350 in 2013, and was adding new ones at the rate of over one a week.

These drugs, often of unknown quality or potency, in some cases have wreaked havoc among drug users around the world and are a prime example of the bad things that can happen when you try to suppress some drugs: You end up with worse ones.

The communications technology revolution that began with the world wide web impacts drug policy just as it impact everything else. Beginning with the infamous Silk Road drug sales website, the dark web and the Tor browser have enabled drug sellers and consumers to hook up anonymously online, with the drugs delivered to one's doorstep by Fedex, UPS, and the like.

Silk Road has been taken down and its proprietor, Ross Ulbricht, jailed for decades in the US, but as soon as Silk Road was down, new sites popped up. They got taken down, and again, new sites popped up. Rinse and repeat.

European authorities estimate the size of the dark web drug marketplace at about $200 million a year -- a fraction of the size of the overall trade -- but warn that it is growing rapidly. And why not? It's like an Amazon for drugs.

10.Massacring Drug Suspects in Southeast Asia

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has drawn international condemnation for the bloody war he unleashed on drug suspects upon taking office last year. Coming from a man who made his reputation for leading death squads while Mayor of Davao City, the wave of killings is shocking, but not surprising. The latest estimates are that some 12,000 people have been killed.

What's worse is that Duterte's bad example seems to be gaining some traction in the neighborhood. Human rights groups have pointed to a smaller wave of killings in Indonesia, along with various statements from Indonesian officials expressing support for Duterte-style drug executions. And most recently, a Malaysian member of parliament urged his own country to emulate Duterte's brutal crackdown.

This isn't the first time Southeast Asia has been the scene of murderous drug war brutality. Back in 2003, then Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra launched a war on drugs that saw 2,800 killed in three months.

Chronicle AM: New Gallup Poll Has Record Support for Marijuana Legalization, More... (10/25/17)

Nearly two-thirds of Americans now support marijuana legalization, and even more in Connecticut, the House passes a bill increasing funding for drug interdiction, the GAO reports on five years of US drug war spending in Latin America, Afghanistan has a whopping record opium crop, and more.

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow... and grow and grow. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Gallup Poll Has Legalization Support at Record High, Approaching Two-Thirds. A Gallup poll released Wednesday has support for marijuana legalization at a record high 64%, up four points from last year and twice as high as just 17 years ago. The poll also includes another first: For the first time, a majority of Republicans support legalization.

Connecticut Poll Has Legalization Support Above 70%. A new Sacred Heart University Institute for Public Policy poll has support for legalization at a whopping 70.6%. That includes both "strongly support" and "somewhat support." Among people under 35, 83.2% wanted to legalize it, and even 73.6% of residents with children in the household were supportive. Legalization should be on the legislative agenda next year.

Washington State Marijuana Sales Top $1 Billion Mark This Year. By the end of September, retail marijuana sales topped $1.1 billion, according to data released by the State Liquor and Cannabis Board. That's just short of Colorado's figure of $1.118 billion so far this year.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Bill Would Create Federal Task Force to Fight Fentanyl and Heroin. US Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Evan Jenkins (R-VA) filed HR 4090, the Fentanyl and Heroin Task Force Act, on Monday. The bill would create a multi-agency task force including members of Customs and Border Protection, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, the IRS, the International Trade Administration, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the US Postal Inspection Service. The task force would coordinate federal efforts to go after fentanyl trafficking groups and identify the sources of heroin and fentanyl production and distribution. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

House Passes Bill to Beef Up Customs, Border Patrol to Wage Drug War. The House voted 412-3 to approve HR 2142, the INTERDICT Act. The bill appropriates funds to pay for new screening devices, laboratory equipment, facilities, and personnel needed to enforce prohibition against fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. A companion measure in the Senate hasn't moved yet.

Foreign Policy

GAO Report: US Spent $39 Billion Fighting Drugs in Western Hemisphere in Five Years. Between 2010 and 2015, US agencies implementing the National Drug Control Strategy spent $39 billion trying to block the flow of drugs from Latin America into the United States. That includes the Defense Department, Homeland Security's ICE, Homeland Security's CBP, the Coast Guard, the Justice Department's DEA and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces, the State Department, and the Agency for International Development. Given the huge drug flows from south of the border, it doesn't seem to be working that well.

State Department Wants Stronger Anti-Drug Efforts from Mexico. A day after the DEA identified Mexican drug trafficking groups as the key criminal threat in drug enforcement, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told a business meeting in Mexico that Mexico needed to do more to help. "More rigorous, collaborative efforts to confront the threat posed by the production and distribution of heroin and fentanyl are a priority for the United States," Sullivan said in remarks reported by ABC News.


Afghanistan Has Record Opium Harvest This Year. The opium poppy crop this year is a record and more than double last year's crop, according to Afghan Counter-Narcotics Minister Salamt Azimi. He blamed high levels of insurgency for preventing eradication programs from operating. Last year's crop was estimated at 4,700 tons, but this year's will likely exceed 10,000 tons.

Chronicle AM: New Zealand to Vote on MJ Legalization, Peru Congress OKs MedMJ, More... (10/20/17)

A new doctors' group is calling on the medical community to be open to marijuana legalization, kratom activists file a FOIA on the DEA, New Zealand's new prime minister says she will hold a referendum on marijuana legalization, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New Doctors' Group Advocates for Marijuana Legalization. A newly formed physicians' group is calling on organized medicine to be open to legalizing and regulating marijuana. Doctors for Cannabis Regulation includes as members former US Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders and former US Center for Substance Abuse Treatment Westley Clark.

Maine Governor Wants to Delay Legal Marijuana Sales. Gov. Paul LePage (R) has proposed that lawmakers delay recreational marijuana sales instead of trying to pass a legislative rewrite of the voter-approved 2016 legalization initiative. LePage is proposing pushing the sales date back to January 2019. Lawmakers have already pushed the sales date back to February 2018.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Trump's Vow to Deliver Emergency Opioid Proclamation Is News to His Advisors. When President Trump announced Monday he would deliver an emergency proclamation on the opioid crisis next week, he blindsided his advisors, who are now scrambling to actually develop a plan. Despite Trump's remarks, it is unclear how or if it will be done, when it will be announced, and whether there is permanent leadership in place to execute it. "They are not ready for this," a public health advocate told Politico, which reported that top officials were "stunned" by Trump's off-script remarks.


Citing DEA "Shadow Campaign," Kratom Backers File FOIA Request. Charging that the DEA is involved in a "shadow campaign" against the herb, the American Kratom Association has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all records of kratom-related communications between the DEA and state lawmakers, law enforcement officials, coroners, and medical examiners. The association believes a recent claim of a "kratom-related death" by a local coroner is "part of a larger behind-the-scenes push against kratom by the DEA in the wake of its decision last year to suspend an emergency scheduling push that would have effectively banned the legal botanical product," according to its press release.

Criminal Justice

In Speech to Oklahoma Sheriffs, Sessions Praises Asset Forfeiture, Denies Need for Sentencing Reform. Addressing the Oklahoma Sheriffs Association in Midway City Wednesday, Attorney General Sessions praised President Trump as a "law and order president," defended federal asset forfeiture, and denied that the country has a mass incarceration problem. "If you want to bring down our prison population, then we should bring down crime," Sessions said in prepared remarks.


Colombia Coca Farmers, Social Organization Call General Strike. Upset by the government's failure to fully implement peace accords signed with the leftist FARC rebels 11 months ago, dozens of groups, including the National Coordinator for Coca, Poppy, and Marijuana Growers; the National Coordinator of Communities and Afrodescendant Organization, and the National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples have called an indefinite strike. "This national strike is to demand compliance with the agreement. We hope that the Government respects our right to protest, "said the spokesman of the National Association of Peasant Reserve Zones, Cesar Jerez, in a statement issued by Patriotic March.

New Zealand Will Hold Referendum on Marijuana Legalization. Incoming Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has said the country will hold a referendum on marijuana legalization at some point in the next three years. She has not taken a position on the issue herself, but said she wanted to hear the view of the public.

Peru Congress Passes Medical Marijuana Bill. The Congress approved a bill Thursday that would legalize medical marijuana in the Andean nation. The move has the support of President Pablo Kuczynski, who proposed it after a scandal erupted when police cracked down on a group of mothers making cannabis oil in a home factory to treat their epileptic children.

Chronicle AM: Dallas Ends Marijuana Possession Arrests, Drug Czar Nominee Names, More... (10/18/17)

Dallas gives up on arresting pot possessors, the DOJ gives up on prosecuting the Kettle Falls Five, there's a new list of possible drug czar nominees, and more.

No more small-time pot arrests in Big D. (Wikimedia Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pro-Legalization Congressman Plans to Target Anti-Marijuana Lawmakers. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), one of the leading advocates for marijuana legalization on Capitol Hill, told a cannabis industry meeting Tuesday that he is taking the offensive against lawmakers who try to block marijuana reform measures. And his first target is House Rules Committee Chair Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), who has used his position to block numerous marijuana measures. "We're going to be putting up some billboards in Pete Sessions's district. It's going to feature a veteran and ask the question why Pete Sessions doesn't want him to have access to his medicine," Blumenauer said in remarks reported by Marijuana Moment. "We're going to make the point that there are consequences. This is not a free vote. People are going to take a position one way or another. And if they are going to be part of an effort to deny people access to medicine that can be transformational… this is going to be part of the political landscape this year."

New Hampshire Legalization Commission Meets, Hears Criticism. At the first meeting of a legislative commission charged with studying the effect of marijuana legalization, advocates criticized the commission's makeup and said it was squandering an opportunity for an honest review of issues around legalization. "Sadly, the commission includes staunch opponents of reform such as the Association of Chiefs of Police and New Futures, but supportive organizations such as the ACLU-NH were excluded in the language of the final bill," said Matt Simon, New England Political Director for the Marijuana, in remarks reported by NH1. "Additionally, none of the six legislators who were appointed to the commission has ever publicly expressed support for ending marijuana prohibition."

Dallas to Join Other Major Texas Cities in Not Arresting Pot Possessors. A decade ago, the state legislature passed a law allowing police to ticket and release people caught with up to four ounces of marijuana, yet only a handful of localities have taken advantage of that law. Now, Dallas is one of them. The city council voted 4-1 Tuesday night to allow police to just issue tickets, joining Austin, Houston, and San Antonio.

Medical Marijuana

Justice Department Drops Kettle Falls Case, Concedes It Is Blocked From Prosecuting. The DOJ Tuesday filed a motion to stay the case of the Kettle Falls Five, a group of Washington state medical marijuana patients and producers who had been pursued and prosecuted after a 2012 raid. In the filing, Justice Department officials conceded that an amendment barring the use of federal funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal blocked them from proceeding with the case.

Arkansas Regulators Swamped With Applications, May Push Back Licensing to 2018. Deluged with applications to grow and sell medical marijuana, the state Medical Marijuana Commission has set December 15 when it will start receiving applications, but says even that date could be pushed back as hundreds of applications come in. That means there's still no approximation of the data medical marijuana will actually be available on store shelves in the Razorback State.

Asset Forfeiture

Justice Department Sets Up Oversight Unit for Asset Forfeiture Program. Attorney General Sessions is setting up a Justice Department unit to oversee the equitable sharing asset forfeiture program, which allows state and local law enforcement to let the federal government "adopt" their cases so they can avoid state laws that limit where the proceeds go. Former Attorney General Eric Holder had stopped the controversial program, but Sessions reinstated it, calling it an "extremely valuable" tool for law enforcement. In a memo Tuesday, Sessions ordered Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to name a director to review the policy and take action if needed.

Drug Policy

With Marino Out, Here Are Possible Drug Czar Nominees. There's a short list of possible nominees to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy after Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) was forced to withdraw over his championing of a bill blocking the DEA from going after opioid pain pills it suspected were being diverted from legitimate medicinal use. Among the possibilities are former New Hampshire Republican congressmen Frank Guinta, who headed a congressional heroin task force; Trump opioid commission member and Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Bertha Madras, outgoing New Jersey Gov. Christ Christie (R), who heads the opioid commission; Florida Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi, and acting ONDCP head Richard Baum.

Foreign Policy

Trump Extends US "Emergency" Regarding Colombia Drug Trafficking. The White House announced Monday that it is maintaining a national emergency over the "extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy" posed by Colombian drug traffickers. The "emergency" has been in effect since 1995, and allows the government to quickly free up funds to protect threatened interests. Colombia is the home of the vast majority of cocaine consumed in the US.

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