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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.

International

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.

Kratom

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.

International

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.

Chronicle AM: Fed Sentencing Reform Bill Filed, Colombia Coca Clashes, More... (10/6/17)

Leading senators roll out a federal sentencing reform bill, Jeff Sessions ramps up the Safe Neighborhoods program, the VA doubles down against medical marijuana, more clashes erupt in Colombia's coca producing areas, and more.

A newly filed Senate bill seeks to address prison overcrowding. (supremecourt.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Just Keeps On Selling More and More Legal Weed. The state broke its marijuana sales record for the sixth consecutive month in August, a trend that officials expect to continue when September figures come in. Farmers sold 734 pounds of buds and 444 pounds of other marijuana plant parts to retailers in August, generating nearly $700,000 in taxes for the state.

Kentucky State Senator Calls for Legalization to Ease Budget Crunch. With the state facing a $200 million budget deficit this year, state Sen. Dan Seum (R-Fairdale) has suggested that legalizing marijuana could help. "My argument is before any new taxes, let's explore the potential of new monies," he told WKYT Thursday.

Maine Legalization Bill Now Requires Town to Opt In, Not Opt Out. Under the latest iteration of the legislature's bill to implement voter-approved marijuana legalization, localities would have to act affirmatively to allow medical marijuana businesses. That's the opposite of what the legalization initiative intended, which was to make localities opt out of participation if they didn't want pot businesses. The latest version of the bill is now headed for a floor vote on October 23.

San Diego Sets Legal Marijuana Business Rules. California's second largest city has made itself ready for legal marijuana. The city has finalized rules for pot growing and manufacturing ahead of the scheduled January 1 start date for legal marijuana sales. It will allow both indoor cultivation and manufacturing, as well as testing labs.

Medical Marijuana

Veterans Department Reiterates Opposition to Medical Marijuana Use. VA policy has been to disallow government doctors from recommending medical marijuana, but now, the agency has updated its website to state that opposition more firmly -- and inaccurately. As Tom Angell at Marijuana Majority noted, the website's claim that "as long as the Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana as Schedule I drug, VA health care providers may not recommend it or assist veterans to obtain it" is not technically true. There is no law barring the VA from allowing its doctors to recommend medical marijuana.

WADA No Longer Considers CBD a Prohibited Drug. The World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) has removed CBD from its 2018 list of prohibited substances. "Cannabidiol is no longer prohibited," WADA said. But it emphasized that THC, the euphoric psychoactive chemical in marijuana, remains banned and that CBD products could contain actionable amounts of THC. "Cannabidiol extracted from cannabis plants may contain varying concentrations of THC," WADA noted.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Federal Bill to Increase Opioid Prescribing Requirements Filed. Rep. David Roe (R-TN) Thursday filed House Resolution 3964, "to amend the Controlled Substance Act to establish additional registration requirements for prescribers of opioids." The bill text is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Ramps Up Safe Neighborhoods Program. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday plans to ramp up efforts against drug trafficking and violent gangs through the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative. In a memo, the country's top cop ordered federal prosecutors to emphasize violent crime reduction and develop plans to work with local police and prosecutors in the effort.

Sentencing

Senate Heavyweights File Sentencing Reform Bill. A bipartisan group of senators today reintroduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 to recalibrate prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, target violent and career criminals and save taxpayer dollars. The legislation permits more judicial discretion at sentencing for offenders with minimal criminal histories and helps inmates successfully reenter society, while tightening penalties for violent criminals and preserving key prosecutorial tools for law enforcement. It is led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tim Scott (R-SC), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO). The bill is S. 1917. Check back for a Chronicle feature on the bill.

International

Four Killed in Colombia Clashes Between Coca Growers, Eradicators. Four people are dead and 14 wounded after somebody attacking protesting coca farmers in the municipality of Tumaco, along the Pacific Coast. The government blamed members of a dissident FARC faction that has refused to lay down its arms, but local activists blamed government security forces for opening fire. Clashes between coca growers and security forces have become more frequent as production of cocaine in Colombia surged to record levels in recent years.

Chronicle AM: FBI: Drug Arrests Up Last Year, Colombia Coca Conflict, More... (9/25/17)

The FBI's latest Uniform Crime Report shows an increase in drug arrests last year, there's conflict in the coca fields in Colombia, British Columbia gets set to figure out how it's going to handle legal weed, and more.

There were more than 1.5 million drug arrests last year, an increase of more than 5% over 2015. (Wikimedia)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Law Challenged By Black Farmer. A state law designed to ensure that at least one medical marijuana cultivation license is reserved for a black farmer has been challenged by a black farmer. Panama City farmer Columbus Smith filed suit last Friday to challenge the law, arguing that it is so narrowly drawn that only a handful of black farmers in the state could qualify. The lawsuit names as a defendant the state Department of Health, which issues licenses, and seeks a temporary injunction blocking the issuance of licenses under that provision of the law.

Montana Dispensary Owner Wins Temporary Restraining Order to Block Billings Ban. Richard Abromeit, the co-owner of Montana Advanced Caregivers in Billings, and a patient filed a temporary restraining order against the city last Friday in a bid to block city officials from enforcing its new ordinance banning medical marijuana businesses. Now, the city cannot enforce the ban until a future court hearing decides the issue. The dispensary has operated in Billings for a decade, but city fathers voted last month to approve an ordinance that bans all medical marijuana businesses.

Law Enforcement

FBI Annual Crime Report Shows Jump in Drug Arrests Last Year. Despite the spread of marijuana legalization and strong public support for new direction in drug policy, the war on drugs just keeps rolling along. Statistics from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report, released Monday, show 1.57 million arrests for drug law violations nationwide, up 5.63% over 2015. Unlike previous reports, this year's report did not make immediately available data on arrests for specific drugs, such as marijuana. But in recent years, simple pot possession along accounted for about 40% of all drug arrests. Drug possession (either or pot or other drugs) accounted for between 85% and 90% of all drug arrests in previous years.

International

British Columbia Begins Public Engagement Process on How to Legalize Marijuana. BC Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth has announced that the government is beginning an extensive process of public consultation about how best to legalize weed in the province. Questions to be determined include the legal age for use, what possession limits will be, how to deal with drug impaired driving, and issues around personal cultivation. The consultation will also address questions around how weed is to be sold. Canada is set to implement marijuana legalization on July 1, 2018.

Colombia Coca Farmer Protests Force Temporary Halt to Forced Eradication in Norte de Santander. Government officials and coca growers agreed last Wednesday on a temporary halt to forced eradication of coca crops in the Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander state in the country's northwest. The agreement came after protests the previous weekend led to clashes and road blockades. Under the peace agreement negotiated between the government and leftist FARC rebels, coca farmers are supposed to have a chance to voluntarily eradicate their plants and join a crop substitution program, but the protestors said the anti-narcotics police, who are under pressure from the US, were engaging in forced eradication anyway.

Chronicle AM: Global NGOs Concerned About Forced Coca Eradication in Colombia, More... (8/18/17)

Global NGOs have written to the Colombian president to express concerns about forced eradication of coca crops, a Nevada judge removes a marijuana sales bottleneck, Massachusetts has a new police force aimed at "extremists and drug traffickers," and more.

Colombian peasant harvesting coca (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada Judge Clears Way for More Distribution Licenses. Carson City District Judge James Russell on Thursday lifted a temporary restraining order that had forced the state to limit marijuana distribution rights to liquor wholesalers. The state's legalization initiative had required officials to limit distribution rights to liquor wholesalers for the first year and a half -- unless they couldn't keep up with demand. In his ruling Thursday, Judge Russell held that they had demonstrated they couldn't.

Asset Forfeiture

Illinois Asset Forfeiture Reform Law Now in Effect. An asset forfeiture reform bill passed earlier this year, House Bill 303 (with asset forfeiture reform added as an amendment to an unrelated bill), is now in effect. The bill does not end civil asset forfeiture, but increases the standard of evidence needed to seize property and adds reporting requirements for all seizures.

Law Enforcement

Massachusetts State Police Division Created to Go After Extremists and Drug Traffickers. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito (R) announced Thursday the formation of a new State Police division to address threats from "extremists and drug traffickers." The new Fifth Division will collect and analyze criminal intelligence and provide protection for large-scale events and key infrastructure, Polito's office said.

International

Global NGOs Concerned About Forced Eradication in Colombia. In a letter to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), a global network of 177 NGOs, expressed strong support for the Peace Accord signed by the Colombian government and the FARC, while also expressing deep concern regarding intensified, and increasingly militarized, forced coca eradication efforts, especially in areas where communities have already signed crop substitution agreements. Forced eradication in areas where communities have signed crop substitution agreements perpetuates violence and generates new conflicts, undermines the very spirit of the voluntary crop substitution agreements and confidence-building efforts with local communities, and potentially threatens the effective implementation of the peace accord, the groups charged.

Chronicle AM: Congress Takes Up MJ This Week, Colombia Coca Violence Flares, More... (7/25/17)

Congress will take up several amendments relating to marijuana policy this week, Maine is getting closer to agreement on how to implement legalization, fighting in Colombia's coca country is generating refugee flows, and more.

Fighting at the edge of coca country in Colombia generated refugee flows last week. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Congress Takes Up Marijuana Issues This Week. The Congress will take up several marijuana-related amendments this week. The House will take up amendments seeking to allow veterans to get medical marijuana recommendations through the Department of Veterans Affairs. A similar measure has already passed the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Senate Appropriations Committee will take up renewing a federal ban on spending to interfere with state marijuana laws. The House version of the amendment has already passed the House Appropriations Committee. And the House Rules Committee will take up an amendment protecting water rights for state-legal marijuana growers.

Maine Lawmakers Near Agreement on Legal Pot Rules. The special legislative panel overseeing implementation of the state's voter-approved pot legalization law has nearly finished its work. It has already agreed to remove the cultivation cap in the initiative and to block regulators from setting limits on cultivators, while adding a six-month state residency requirement for growers and sellers aimed at limiting out-of-state companies from dominating the market. The panel is leaving local control alone, meaning localities could ban pot businesses. And while it hasn't agreed on a final tax rate yet, it looks like it will be relatively low compared to other legalization states, coming in at between 10% and 20%.

Drug Testing

Maine Labor Department Tells Employers Not to Test for Pot Pending Changes in State Law. The Labor Department said most businesses should not test workers and job applicants for marijuana because the state does not have laws on the books. The Labor Department urged the legislative panel charged with implementing legalization to write laws that would clearly spell out what testing regimes would be allowed.

International

Fighting in Colombian Coca Zones Displaces Hundreds. Colombian security forces and an "unidentified illegal armed group" have been engaged in armed clashes in the municipality of Hacari in Norte de Santander state for several days, according to the United Nations. As a result, more than 200 locals have fled. The area is near Catatumbo, where there is more coca than government presence, and where dissident leftish guerillas and rightist paramilitary forces have been active.

Chronicle AM: Vets MedMJ Vets Advances in Senate, Drug War Bill Advances in House, More... (7/13/15)

Congress is dealing with medical marijuana and drug policy issues, legalization advocates call on New Hampshire's governor to kill a marijuana study commission bill, Rhode Island's governor issues an executive order dealing with the state's opioid crisis, and more.

VA docs could recommend medical marijuana for veterans under legislation moving in the Senate (Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska's Largest City Wants Social Consumption at Pot Shops. The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday urged the state Marijuana Control Board to allow tourists and locals to smoke or otherwise consume marijuana at retail stores. The move comes as the board is set to meet in Fairbank later this week. The board is expected to examine several proposals related to consumption in pot shops at that meeting.

Montana Man Challenges State's Standard for Marijuana DUIs. A Billings man facing a vehicular manslaughter charge for an accident while he was allegedly under the influence of marijuana is challenging the state's de jure standard of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. Kent Roderick Jensen and his attorney argue that the standard is arbitrary and the charge should be dismissed. "There is no science to back up the 5 ng/mL level as a level that indicates impairment in a sizable enough portion of users to make it a standard for everyone," his attorney wrote in a motion seeking dismissal. The judge in the case has heard oral arguments and received written briefs, but has yet to make a decision.

New Hampshire Governor Should Veto Marijuana Study Commission, Reform Advocates Say. Advocates sent a letter to Gov. Chris Sununu (R) asking him to veto House Bill 215, a bill that would create a study commission to consider marijuana legalization and regulation. The letter, which was signed by leading advocates including the bill's prime sponsor, Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton), notes that, "The commission envisioned by the final bill includes numerous vocal opponents, such as the Association of Chiefs of Police and New Futures, but it does not include any known supporters." The House version of the bill included a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and a representative from the Marijuana Policy Project, which would have added some balance to the commission, but the Senate removed those prospective members from the bill.

Wisconsin Lawmaker Files Legalization Bill. Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) on Thursday announced she would file a marijuana legalization bill. There are no details on it yet. This would be the fourth time she has filed a similar bill.

Medical Marijuana

US Senate Panel Approves Medical Marijuana for Veterans. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted on Thursday to adopt an amendment that would allow military veterans to get medical marijuana recommendations through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bipartisan measure picked up four more votes than last year in the committee. Then, it was approved by the full House, but killed in conference committee.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Rhode Island Governor Signs Executive Order Dealing With Opioid Crisis. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) was joined by White House acting drug czar Richard Baum on Thursday as she signed an executive order aimed at curbing the "alarming rate of deaths" due to opioid overdoses. The 18-point order includes directives calling for a family task force on impacts of opioid use, expanded access to "sober" homes for people in recovery, and the creation of diversion programs to keep people out of the criminal justice system, among others.

Drug Policy

House Judiciary Committee Approves Bill that Gives Attorney General Sessions Unchecked Power to Ban New Drugs and Set Criminal Penalties. The committee on Wednesday advanced legislation that greatly expands the penalties for new drugs and gives Attorney General Sessions unilateral new powers to schedule drugs. Opponents warned that the legislation is a counterproductive approach to the opioid crisis that will exacerbate mass incarceration and enable Attorney General Sessions to ban hundreds of substances and prosecute people with long federal prison terms in violation of the new drug laws. The measure is House Resolution 2851, the "Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act of 2017," or "SITSA."

International

Colombia's Coca Crop Substitution Program Faces Same Old Obstacles, Report Finds. A new report from the Colombian Ideas for Peace Foundation casts doubt on the government's ability to eradicate 250,000 acres of coca plantings, saying a vacuum left by the demobilization of leftist FARC guerrillas has not been filled by the state, but is instead being filled by illegal armed drug trafficking groups and paramilitary formations. That means the state is not providing adequate security measures and sustainable alternatives in areas historically hit hardest by decades of armed conflict.

Chronicle AM: MA MJ Talks Resume, WI "Cocaine Mom" Law Back in Effect (For Now), More... (7/10/17)

Massachusetts lawmakers finally figured out their budget, so now maybe they can figure out how to implement the will of the voters on legal pot; the Supreme Court lets Wisconsin continue to enforce its "cocaine mom" law as the state appeals a lower court ruling it's unconstitutional; Colombian coca cultivation was way up last year, and more.

Colombian coca cultivation jumped last year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime says. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Lawmakers Resume Talks on Implementing Legalization. A House-Senate conference committee was set for a closed door meeting Monday afternoon to restart negotiations over legislation that would implement the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization law. House and Senate negotiators are split over a number of issues, foremost among them taxation rates and whether localities can ban pot businesses without a popular vote.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Seeks Letters of Intent from Prospective Growers and Dispensaries. The Health Department last Friday asked prospective medical marijuana growers and dispensary operators to send in letters of intent to apply under the state's new medical marijuana law. The department said it wants a better idea of how many applications it will receive in coming months. Interested parties have until July 28 to send in their letters.

Drug Policy

US Supreme Court Lets Wisconsin "Cocaine Mom" Law Stay in Effect Pending Appeal. The Supreme Court last Friday issued an order lifting an injunction against Wisconsin's "cocaine mom" law imposed in April. The law allows state officials to detain pregnant women suspected of using drugs or alcohol. A federal district court judge ruled the law unconstitutionally vague and issued the injunction, but now the Supreme Court will allow the state to continue to use the law while it appeals the lower court ruling.

Sentencing

Report: Some Federal Prosecutors Ignored Obama Sentencing Recommendations. A report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General released last Friday finds that at least 20 of the country's 94 federal prosecutorial districts did not follow Obama administration "Smart on Crime" sentencing recommendations aimed at reducing the number of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. Still, the report noted, the initiative had an impact: Drug offenders sentenced without mandatory minimum sentences increased from 40% in 2014 to 54% in 2015.

International

UN Says Colombia Coca Cultivation Increased Dramatically Last Year. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports that the amount of land under coca cultivation jumped from 250,000 acres in 2015 to 363,000 acres last year, an increase of nearly 50%. The UNODC notes that most of the increase came in areas that had been under the control of the now demobilized FARC guerrillas. The Colombian military failed to take effective control of those areas, leaving a power vacuum filled by dissident guerrilla groups, rightist paramilitaries, and drug trafficking organizations.

Drug War Issues

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