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Stopping the Philippine Drug War Killings

Human Rights Challenge: One Year Later,
Drug War Extrajudicial Killings Continue


side event at the UN Commission on
Narcotic Drugs meeting, Vienna

featuring Senator Antonio F. Trillanes IV

March 15, 1:10pm CET
live stream through our Facebook page

 

One of today's urgent human rights issues is extrajudicial killings in the Philippines drug war. Since taking office in June 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte has orchestrated a brutal campaign whose victims may exceed 16,000 as we approach the end of 2017. Other abuses have affected hundreds of thousands, and the killings are spreading to Indonesia.

 
from Amnesty International video,
"If You Are Poor You Are Killed"

StoptheDrugWar.org plays a prominent role in international advocacy on this issue. In March 2017 Vice President Leni Robredo of the Philippines sent us a speech by video for an event we held at the UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna. In November 2017 we released a sign-on statement, coinciding with the ASEAN Summit in Manila, calling for action by the UN and major aid donor countries.

Currently we are working with Filipino American advocates and others to pass legislation in the US Congress placing human rights conditions on aid to the Philippines, while funding positive alternatives to the drug war there, and to encourage such moves by other donor countries. And we are engaged in other work on the issue, including support for the campaign to free Philippine Senator Leila de Lima.

On February 28, we held a protest at the Philippines Embassy in Washington, DC, video of which went viral in the Philippines and garnered nearly 300,000 views as of this writing:

These efforts, which continue into 2018, are part of a global drug policy reform effort that StoptheDrugWar.org engaged in decisively in fall 2014. Much of that involves the United Nations, and our 501(c)(3) US nonprofit organization, DRCNet Foundation Inc., is an accredited NGO in Special Consultative Status with the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Our international drug policy efforts are led for our organization by our founder and 24-year executive director, David Borden, who tweets as @stopthedrugwar, and who starting in 2018 will also tweet as @BordenUNEventPH. Our organization's blog will have a significant focus on the Philippines, also beginning in 2018.

 
 
TIME magazine did the first posting
of the vice president's video,
embedding it from our YouTube account.

Vice President Robredo's video and the UN Event

Our UN event drew massive attention in the Philippines. We released the video the Monday before, offering TIME magazine the exclusive first posting. TIME followed up with an interview with Robredo. Philippine media took extensive notice; it trended on Twitter and was covered by wire services and outlets throughout Asia and the Gulf region.

Unfortunately though not surprisingly, Duterte's forces hit back. The Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives and the president's Spokesperson both claimed the vice president's office (OVP) must have timed the video's release to coincide with other events that week. They principally pointed to an impeachment complaint that a congressman filed against Duterte the day after we released the video. A resolution in the European Parliament calling for the release of Duterte critic Sen. Leila de Lima, passed the morning before our event, was also in the mix. They presented this as evidence Robredo was engaged in a "destabilization campaign" against the government.

 
Robredo's opponents used the
video to attack her politically.

While still in Vienna, we released a statement to media refuting those claims. It documented that UN staff had scheduled side events nearly two months earlier, and attested that OVP had made no requests of us. (Our event appears on page ten of the 2017 CND side events list; a screenshot of that document's properties page shows it was published on January 23, compared with the event's March 16 date.) Sen. Kiko Pangilinan distributed the statement to their media list, and we also contacted Philippine media. (See news links below.)

 

 
 
coverage of our statement
defending the vice president, CNN
Philippines mobile home page

The statement helped to dilute the specific charge of a coordinated campaign by the vice president. But Duterte's team had ignited a political firestorm over the video which already had its own momentum, and which turned into a campaign to impeach Robredo. At the height of the furor, opportunistic celebrities even held a concert and rally against Robredo. (Their campaign reached the US west coast, when a Filipino American group in Hayward, California held an affinity rally.)

As we approach the end of 2017, Philippine Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has not announced whether he will move on impeachment, but for now at least the storm has abated. Robredo's popularity has rebounded – while Duterte's has diminished, somewhat – and she has continued to speak out against the killings.

The political heat the vice president took for participating in our event is unfortunate, but it's just one in a set of assaults that have been waged on Robredo since she took office, and on others. Targets of the Duterte camp's attack on Philippine democracy include Senators, the Supreme Court's Chief Justice (they are holding the impeachment hearings right now), the Ombudsman, the Commission on Human Rights and others. Along with Duterte, a mover and shaker of the manipulations is Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the former dictator who lost a close race to Robredo for vice president and is challenging the vote count. One of the tactics the Duterte camp has used is a sophisticated social media manipulation campaign involving paid trolls and bots.

We are continuing our advocacy on the Philippines, and we hope to use the media profile we've gained in that country, and the numerous contacts we've made in the Philippines and internationally, to up the pressure on the Duterte administration and building the international movement for stopping the killings and for accountability. Information on some of our current work on this appears below.

 
Philippine officials provided the
government's response.
(photo by Joey Tranchina)

First, footage of our event is available online here. Along with the Robredo statement and an Amnesty international video, it includes presentations by Chito Gascon, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines; Abhisit Vejjajiva, former Prime Minister of Thailand and current chair of event cosponsor the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (video); Lousewies van der Laan, former leader of the Dutch D66 party (Skype); Alison Smith, lead counsel and head of international criminal justice programs at the NGO No Peace Without Justice; Marco Perduca, former Senator from Italy and a member of our board of directors; and a written statement from US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). We also have transcripts and a detailed summary.

 
 

Co-moderator Marco Perduca, former
senator of Italy, and David Borden
speaking with Amnesty International's
Daniel Joloy, other speakers Alison
Smith (just off screen) and Lousewies
van der Laan (on Skype).
(photo by Joey Tranchina)

News articles mentioning the event are too numerous to list here, but these are some key ones:

The Philippines' largest broadsheet newspaper and 8th most read web site in the country, The Inquirer, interviewed our executive director David Borden, as well as fellow event speaker Alison Smith, two weeks after the event. The interview, titled "Group says Duterte, not Robredo, upsetting int'l community," was widely read, shared by Inquirer readers nearly 9,000 times.

A transcript of the video is posted on Vice President Robredo's web site.

Articles covering our statement defending the vice president against the Speaker's false attack:

Articles covering our publishing of the full event footage:

Global Sign-On Statement

 
 
 

In the lead up to the November 2017 Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which was hosted by Duterte in the Philippines, we organized a global sign-on statement which calls for a UN-led investigation of the drug war killings; for the leaders of ASEAN member states and other world leaders attending to speak up about the issue; and for international aid donor governments to impose human rights conditions on law enforcement assistance to the Philippines, while funding positive programs that could serve as an alternative to the Philippine drug war, and funding the work of human rights advocates.

Nearly 300 NGOs and prominent individuals endorsed the statement. Of the 240 NGO endorsers, more than 50 are based in Asia, including a majority of ASEAN member states as well as India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. There are also several Asia-wide networks devoted to issues such as HIV, transgender and drug user concerns, and youth democracy activism.

Some notable signatories on the document include the National Organization for Women (NOW), Doctors of the World, the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG, a nationwide Philippines human rights lawyers group founded during the Marcos dictatorship years), Treatment Communities of America, prominent human rights advocate and actor of MASH fame Mike Farrell, former police chief of Seattle Norm Stamper, and others.

A political component of the statement's outreach efforts, which was in its early stages at the time of the statement's release, secured endorsements from legislators in Canada, Italy, Cambodia, and Washington State, as well as other political and governmental officials from Singapore, Canada and the UK.

The statement was covered in articles on four important Philippines news outlets, including the Inquirer, Rappler, the Philippine Star and InterAksyon. The Interaksyon article credited our coalition with renewing global calls for a UN-led probe into the drug war killings.

We continue to accept signatories for the statement, and are currently formulating the next stage of the effort, which may include a similar statement with slight modifications to update it and enable certain additional major organizations to endorse the language. A key objective of the next stage is to get major aid donor countries including the United States to adopt the policies on aid that are called for in the statement.

Legislative Lobbying

A bipartisan bill in the US Senate, "The Philippine Human Rights Accountability and Counternarcotics Act of 2017," would enact human rights conditions on some law enforcement assistance to the Philippines, based on certifications by the US State Dept., while funding public health programs to address substance issues as well as human rights work. There is similar language in the current version of the Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations bill.

 
 

We are working with a coalition that includes Filipino American organizations and faith networks, to pass this legislation as part of the upcoming appropriations process, or if not then later during the 2018 session of Congress. A recent update and action alert we published is online here, and includes information on what the most key states and congressional districts are. We have a write-to-Congress form supporting S. 1055 online here.

We view this legislation as important not only for its potential impact on the Duterte administration's political cost-benefit analysis on this issue, but also because of the inconsistent approach to the matter taken by the current US administration. While the State Dept. has reportedly raised some concerns about the drug war killings, President Trump has made comments which seem to green-light them.

Specifically, in December 2016 Trump and Duterte spoke on the phone, after which Duterte claimed that Trump praised his drug policies. While Duterte could have made that up, the Trump team never rebutted the claim.

After Trump and Duterte spoke again in April 2017, a statement on the White House web site said they discussed " fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs," with no qualification of that statement to exclude extrajudicial killings from Trump's apparent praise. A transcript of the April conversation leaked to Rappler quotes Trump congratulating Duterte for doing an "'unbelievable job' in the war on drugs."

Finally, Trump was silent about the issue during his appearance at the ASEAN Summit, at least publicly. A White House spokesperson said that Trump and Duterte talked briefly about human rights, but did not elaborate.

– END –

Chronicle AM: OK Medical Marijuana Muddle, Toronto Health Board Says Decriminalize, More... (7/17/18)

The uproar in Oklahoma grows louder after the state health board messes with the medical marijuana initiative, Toronto's health board endorses drug decriminalization, and more.

A battle is brewing in Oklahoma after the state health board messes with the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative. (DPA)
Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Pressure Mounts for Special Session on Medical Marijuana. Amid growing outrage over the Board of Health's imposition of restrictive and controversial changes to State Question 788, approved last month by voters, legislators and others are demanding Gov. Mary Fallin (R) call a special session of the legislature to ensure the will of the voters is upheld. Among other changes, the Board banned the sale of smokable marijuana and required pharmacists to be present at dispensaries. "This is not what the voters voted for," said state Rep. Jason Lowe (D-Oklahoma City). "We must adhere to the will of the people. The governor's signing of the emergency rules adopted by the Oklahoma State Health Department is an affront to democracy, an insult to the law-abiding citizens that showed up to vote for this initiative."

Drug Testing

Massachusetts High Court Holds Judges Can Require Drug Users to Remain Drug-Free. The state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled Monday that a judge can require a drug user to stay drug-free as a condition of probation. The case involved Julie Eldred, who was on probation for a larceny charge when she was jailed for failing a drug test. Her attorney argued that her relapse was a symptom of her disease of addiction and that it was unconstitutional to punish someone for a medical condition. But the court disagreed: "In appropriate circumstances, a judge may order a defendant who is addicted to drugs to remain drug-free as a condition of probation, and that a defendant may be found to be in violation of his or her probation by subsequently testing positive for an illegal drug."

International

Toronto Public Health Board Calls for Drug Decriminalization. The health board in Canada's largest city has called on the federal government to decriminalize all drugs. The board voted unanimously Monday to endorse the recommendation from the city's top health officer, Dr. Eileen de Villa. "The potential harms associated with any of these drugs is worsened when people are pushed into a position where they have to produce, obtain and consume those drugs illegally, so that's what we're trying to address," de Villa said, with a call for a "public health approach" focused on treatment and harm minimization rather police, courts and jail. Officials in Vancouver have also called for drug decriminalization, but the federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn't shown any appetite for it.

Chronicle AM: CA Legal Pot Draft Rules Unveiled, Opioid Crackdown Hurts Pain Patients, More... (7/16/18)

California regulators issue proposed draft regulations for the legal marijuana market, British police are "in effect" decriminalizing marijuana, the opioid crackdown is impacting chronic pain patients, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Legal Marijuana Draft Regulations Unveiled. State regulators last Friday unveiled their much-anticipated draft of permanent regulations for the state's legal marijuana industry. Under the proposed regulations, pot shops would be able to deliver marijuana anywhere in the state, medical marijuana patients will likely be able to buy edibles more potent than currently permitted, but rules for advertising products could become more strict. The public now has 45 days to weigh in on the draft rules, either in writing or at one of 10 hearings to be held throughout the state.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Crackdown on Opioid Prescriptions Risks Leaving Pain Patients Out of Luck. With the country in the midst of a battle against opioid addiction and overdoses, policies to curtail the use of opioids are impacting chronic pain patients and making their lives more difficult. New prescribing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, new state laws, state medical board sanctions, and policy changes by managed-care and prescription plans have all contributed to what pain patients call "changes have ignored the treatment of their pain and have made it harder for many to find care."

Drug Testing

Minnesota Appeals Court Rules That People With Drug Convictions Can't Be Subjected to Drug Tests Forever to Receive Welfare Benefits. The state Court of Appeals ruled Monday that people with previous drug convictions cannot be permanently required to undergo drug testing as a condition of receiving welfare benefits. The ruling came in the case of a woman convicted of drug possession in 1997 who refused to take a drug test in 2016 and lost her benefits. Under a 1997 state law, people convicted of drug offenses are ineligible for benefits for five years after their sentences are over (unless they've completed drug treatment) and are subject to random drug tests in perpetuity. "Granting effect to the [Department of Human Services'] current interpretation of the statute would require persons receiving MSA or general-assistance benefits to undergo chemical testing indefinitely, even if decades have passed since the completion of a court-ordered sentence," Judge Roger Klaphake wrote on his opinion overturning a denial of benefits to the woman. "Those who, like appellant, have long since completed their court-ordered sentences and five-year period of ineligibility are not ''[p]ersons subject to the limitations of this subdivision' and are not required to undergo chemical testing for receipt of benefits under chapter 256D," he wrote on behalf of a divided three-judge panel.

International

Brazil Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. The opposition Workers' /Party has filed a bill that would legalize marijuana in South America's largest and most populous country. The move comes a year after Supreme Court Justice Roberto Barroso called on lawmakers to legalize marijuana as a means of reducing gang violence. But given that the Workers' Party is the minority, this bill is unlikely to move this year.

British Police "In Effect" Decriminalizing Marijuana. British police are effectively decriminalizing marijuana by not bothering to arrest pot smokers, British arrest statistics show. Marijuana arrests have dropped 19% since 2015 and so have warnings, which declined 34% in the same period. "The fall in prosecutions and cautions for cannabis possession is a welcome trend and a victory for common sense," said Liberal Democrat MP David Lamb. "The 'war on cannabis' unfairly stigmatizes and criminalizes young people who are doing no harm to others, while tying up police resources which should be better used tackling harmful crimes. However, this issue should not be left to individual police forces. We cannot tolerate a postcode lottery where cannabis users may or may not be prosecuted depending on where they live. The government must bring forward proposals for a regulated cannabis market in the interests of public health, with strict controls on price and potency, and give parliament a free vote."

EVENT: Human Rights Challenge: Judicial and Extrajudicial Drug War Killings, in a Time of Authoritarianism

Human Rights Challenge: Judicial and Extrajudicial Drug War Killings, in a Time of Authoritarianism
side event at the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development
Church Center of the United Nations, 1st Avenue & 44th Street, 10th Floor
July 16, 2018, noon-2:00pm ET
RSVP to [email protected] (requested but not required)

The rise of authoritarian or authoritarian-leaning political figures has been accompanied, in some cases driven, by calls for both sanctioned and extra-legal government violence in their crime and drug policies. The most noted example is that of extrajudicial drug war killings in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte. But similar killings have begun in Indonesia and Bangladesh, and high-level political figures in countries including Malaysia and Turkey have called for extra-legal violence by law enforcers. In March of this year, President Trump called for the death penalty for some drug offenses, and Attorney General Sessions issued a memo calling for use of two never prosecuted drug death penalties provisions of dubious constitutionality.

A devolution into governmental barbarism would threaten the achievement of a variety of components of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, in the areas of health, rule of law, equal justice, peace, and strong institutions.

This panel will discuss what the needed partnerships may be for fending off such a scenario. Sectors or institutions of possible discussion include the ICC, UN human rights bodies, national human rights institutions, courts, public interest/human rights law, drug abuse services, the philanthropic sector, and media, among others. The event is the third in a series, the first two of which took place at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs 2017 and 2018 meetings in Vienna.

Speakers (subject to change):

  • Justine Balane, International Secretary, Akbayan Youth, Philippines (via Skype)
  • Agnès Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions (via Skype)
  • Senator Risa Hontiveros, Republic of the Philippines (video – invited)
  • Jason Wright, Professor of Practice, Washington & Lee School of Law
  • Moderated by David Borden, Executive Director, StoptheDrugWar.org

Sponsored by DRCNet Foundation (AKA "StoptheDrugWar.org"). Cosponsored by:

  • Asian Network of People Who Use Drugs
  • Dianova International
  • Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines
  • FAAAT.net - French Alternatives on Addiction And Toxicomanies
  • Fields of Green for All
  • Filipino American Human Rights Alliance
  • Help Not Handcuffs
  • Housing Works
  • International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines
  • Netherlands Drug Policy Foundation
  • New York NGO Committee on Drugs
  • Northern California Chapter, National Ecumenical-Interfaith Forum for Filipino Concerns
  • REDUC - Brazilian Harm Reduction and Human Rights Network
  • Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
  • Students for Sensible Drug Policy
  • United Methodist Church-General Board of Church and Society
  • Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network
Location: 
777 UN Plaza
New York, NY
United States

Chronicle AM: AI Adopts First-Ever Drug Plank, ND Init Hands in Signatures, More... (6/9/18)

North Dakota could see a marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot, Amnesty International adopts a first-ever position on drug policy, Maine's governor vetoes a medical marijuana expansion bill, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Indiana Judge Rules First Church of Cannabis Can't Use Marijuana as Sacrament. In a ruling handed down last Friday, Marion County Superior Court Judge Sheryl Lynch rejected the church's argument that Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) allows for a religious exemption from state and federal prohibitions on marijuana. "Permitting exceptions to Indiana's laws prohibiting the sale, possession and use of marijuana for religious exercise would undermine Indiana's ability to enforce anti-marijuana laws at all; anyone charged with violating those laws could simply invoke 'religious; exemption, triggering time-consuming (if not practically impossible) efforts to sort legitimate from illegitimate uses," Lynch wrote in her opinion.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Hands in Signatures. Backers of a legalization initiative that would remove marijuana from the state's drug schedules handed in some 19,000 raw signatures last Friday, the deadline for signature gathering. The measure needs 13,500 valid voter signatures to appear on the November ballot. The signature cushion looks big enough that it could actually happen.

Medical Marijuana

Maine Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. Gov. Paul LePage last Friday vetoed a bill that would have allowed doctors to certify medical marijuana for patients for any reason, as well as revamping the caregiver system and removing some obstacles to obtaining patient cards. The bill will now go back to the legislature for a possible effort to override the veto.

Michigan Adds More Qualifying Conditions. The state on Monday added 11 medical conditions, including autism, chronic pain, Parkinson's disease and Tourette's syndrome, to the list of ailments that could qualify a person for a medical marijuana card. That brings the number of qualifying conditions to 22.

Drug Policy

Amnesty International Adopts First-Ever Policy on Drugs. Amnesty International has adopted new proposals to tackle the devastating human rights consequences of misguided attempts by countries to criminalize and punish people for using drugs. Representatives voted to adopt what will be the organization's first-ever position on how States should address the challenges posed by drugs from a human rights perspective. The proposed policy calls for a shift away from the current "scorched-earth" approach of heavy-handed criminalization, to an approach where protection of people's health and rights are at the center.

International

Mexico's Next Interior Secretary Will Push for the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana. Incoming Interior Minister Olga Sanchez Cordero has begun to push for the legalization of recreational marijuana and possibly opium poppy cultivation. It's an early move from the Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) administration, which will not take power until December, to make a dramatic break from past Mexican drug war policies.

Caribbean Nations Agree to Consider Marijuana Legalization. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has agreed to "review marijuana's current status with a view to reclassification," noting "human and religious rights" issues stemming from criminalization as well as "the economic benefits to be derived" from legalization. The move comes after a lower-level committee recommended replacing marijuana prohibition with regulation.

Chronicle AM: Fed Judge Tired of Jailing Pot People, AI to Vote on New Drug Policy, More... (7/6/18)

There will be no marijuana legalization measure on the Arizona ballot this year, a federal judge is sick of sending probationers to jail for marijuana, Amnesty International is set to vote on a new drug policy stance, and more.

Is Philippines President Duterte using the war on drugs to assassinate political foes? Human rights watchers say yes.
Marijuana Policy

Federal Judge Says Enough Already on Punishing Marijuana Users. Brooklyn, New York, US District Court Judge Jack Weinstein said Thursday he has been too hard on marijuana users, and that's going to end. He criticized federal probation officers for demanding sentences of supervised release for people caught with small amounts of marijuana. His comments came in his ruling in a case where a 22-year-old on probation got caught with marijuana. Instead of sending him to jail, Weinstein cut short his probation sentence.

Arizona Legalization Initiative Comes Up Way Short on Signatures. A legalization initiative from Safer Arizona will not be on the November ballot after organizers missed the Thursday deadline to hand in signatures. The group needed 150,000 valid voter signatures to qualify and had planned to gather 225,000 to provide a cushion, but admitted it had only come up with 75,000 raw signatures so far.

International

Amnesty International to Vote on New Positions on Drug Policy. One of the world's leading human rights groups will be debating proposals to tackle the devastating human rights consequences of "misguided attempts" by countries to criminalize and punish people for using drugs. The proposed new policy "would call for a shift away from the current 'scorched-earth' approach of heavy-handed criminalization, to an approach where protection of people's health and rights are at the center." The question will be taken up during the group's Global Assembly later this year.

Report Calls for Coca Leaf to Be Legalized in Colombia. A new report from Open Society Foundations, "Coca Industrialization: A Path To Innovation, Development and Peace In Colombia," calls for coca to be legalized and calls on the Colombian government to guarantee small farmers protection from prosecution, support research into coca's nutritional properties, and promote the use of coca among indigenous communities.

Philippines Rights Group Say Duterte Is Assassinating Political Opponents Under Cover of Drug War. At least ten Filipino mayors have been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016, including two in the past week. Human rights groups said Duterte is using the drug war to crack down on political opponents. The deaths of the mayors strikes fear into the hearts of "politicians, especially in the provinces, who are then forced to toe Duterte's line," said Carlos Conde, Philippines researcher for Human Rights Watch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marijuana Legalization

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

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

Drug Legalization

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

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

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

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

Amnesty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The US-Mexico Relationship

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: OK Legalizes MedMJ, Colombia Drug War Could Be Gearing Up, More... (6/27/18)

Oklahoma voters pass a very progressive medical marijuana initiative, legalizers win the Democratic gubernatorial nominations in Colorado and Maryland, Maine passes a major medical marijuana overhaul, and, with rightists now in power in Washington and Bogota, it looks like a new drug war is looming in Colombia.

Cocaine supply is at record levels and Colombia's newly elected president wants to do something about it. (CBP)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalizers Win Democratic Gubernatorial Nominations in Two States. Colorado US Rep. Jared Polis, a leading congressional proponent of marijuana legalization, won the nomination in his state, while former NAACP head Ben Jealous, who has also called for marijuana legalization, won the nomination in Maryland.

Florida Medical Marijuana Proponent Now Wants 2020 Legalization Initiative. Orlando attorney John Morgan, the man behind the state's successful 2016 medical marijuana initiative, now says he wants to put a legalization initiative on the 2020 ballot. It would "pass overwhelmingly," Morgan said. The longtime Democratic fundraiser pointed to President Trump's recent comments on marijuana: "And I believe in light of President Trump's position, America is ready and willing."

Texas Poll Has Narrow Majority for Legalization. More than half of Texas registered voters polled in the newest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll support legalizing marijuana. Some 53% said they favored legalizing either small amounts (30%) or any amount (23%). Another 31% would support legalizing medical marijuana, leaving only 16% against legalizing marijuana in any form. A much larger majority -- 69% -- supported reduced penalties for the possession of small amounts.

Medical Marijuana

Maine Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Overhaul. The legislature has passed a sweeping overhaul of the state's medical marijuana program. The bill removes current qualifying conditions and allows doctors to recommend medical marijuana for any ailment and allows caregivers to expand their operations in exchange for tighter regulations. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Paul LePage.

Oklahoma Legalizes Medical Marijuana. One of the reddest of red states went green on Tuesday. Voters in Oklahoma approved a remarkably progressive medical marijuana initiative by a healthy margin of 56% to 43%. The initiative, State Question 778, allows registered patients to possess up to three ounces of marijuana anywhere and up to eight ounces at home. Patients also have the right to grow up to six mature and six immature plants or have designated caregivers do it for them. It also creates a system of licensed dispensaries, cultivation, and processing facilities and sets taxes at a relatively low 7%. The initiative also bars localities from using zoning laws to block dispensaries (although they wouldn't be allowed within 1,000 feet of a school). But what is most striking about Question 778 is that it does not restrict access to medical marijuana to a list of qualifying conditions. In fact, the initiative language explicitly states that "[T]here are no qualifying conditions" and that the only limitation on a doctor's recommending medical marijuana is that it must be done "according to the accepted standards a reasonable and prudent physician would follow when recommending or approving any medication."

Harm Reduction

Ohio Officials Dragging Feet on Federal Needle Exchange Funds, Advocates Charge. The advocacy group Harm Reduction Ohio is accusing the state Health Department of using a bureaucratic delaying tactic to prevent needle exchange programs from accessing any of the funds the state is expected to receive for HIV prevention. Group head Dennis Cauchon said the department is failing to submit a necessary form to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Preventing HIV, hepatitis and drug overdoses are crucial health measures and save massive amounts of money and treatment," Cauchon wrote. Surrounding states submitted the necessary paperwork in 2016, he noted. "The Ohio Department of Health's refusal to support this would be nothing short of reckless, irresponsible and ignorant."

International

UNODC Says Cocaine, Opium Supplies at Record Levels. In its 2018 World Drug Report released Tuesday, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that both cocaine and opium supplies were at their highest ever recorded levels last year. UNODC also described the non-medical use of prescription opioids, such as fentanyl, as a major threat to public health. "Drug markets are expanding, with cocaine and opium production hitting absolute record highs, presenting multiple challenges on multiple fronts," said UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov in a statement. "The real problematic issues for us have been the increase in opium production in Afghanistan and the massive increase in cocaine production, particularly because of Colombia," added Thomas Pietschmann, a drug research expert at the UNODC, and one of the lead authors of the report.

Colombia's New Rightist President-Elect Welcomes Trump's Support in New War on Drugs. President-elect Ivan Duque said Monday he welcomed Donald Trump's support for his agenda of a "head-on fight against drug trafficking" during a congratulatory phone call from the US leader. "Today I received a call from the US president where he congratulated us for the results achieved in the last elections and also his commitment to support our security, justice agenda, our agenda of a head-on fight against drug trafficking," Duque told reporters. The US wants Duque to clamp down hard on coca cultivation, which is at record levels. During the campaign, Duque vowed to reinstate the forced eradication of coca crops and the aerial spraying of herbicides over coca farms.

Colombia's Outgoing President Authorizes Use of Drones for Aerial Coca Eradication. Outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos on Tuesday authorized the use of drones to spray herbicides on coca crops. The move comes a day after the US said Colombian coca cultivation had increased 11% last year and cocaine production jumped 19%. Santos' government suspended aerial eradication of coca crops with glyphosate in 2015 after the World Health Organization linked it to cancer. Using low-flying drones would limit the dangers associated with glyphosate, he said.

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

In Drug Case, Supreme Court Holds That Unauthorized Rental Car Drivers Have Rights, Too

Criminal Court & Legal Affair Investigative Journalist Clarence Walker can be reached at [email protected].

The US Supreme Court recently annulled a major search and seizure case around a rental car filled with heroin with a ruling that could impact the legal rights of Americans who may get stopped by police while driving a vehicle rented by another person. That case is U.S. v. Terence Byrd (#16-1371).

The Fourth Amendment applies even to unauthorized rental car drivers, the Supreme Court rules.
On May 14, Supreme Court Justices released their decision in Byrd's case, announcing when the Fourth Amendment was applied to the evidence in the case that Terence Byrd had "reasonable expectation of privacy while driving a car rented by another party."

Pennsylvania state troopers had arrested Byrd with a large cache of heroin in a car rented by his girlfriend. Police told Byrd he had no right to refuse to consent to a search because Byrd's name was not on the rental agreement. Byrd copped to ten years in federal prison when a district court ruled earlier that Byrd had no expectations of privacy while driving an unauthorized rental car.

The thorny issues the justices had to untangle was whether a second party driver of a rental car like Byrd could legally refuse a police request to search the rental vehicle unless police had a warrant or probable cause, and further whether Byrd was still entitled to protection the under Fourth Amendment. In a unanimous decision, the justices rejected the government's argument that Byrd had no expectation of privacy because he wasn't listed as a second party driver.

"People who borrow rental cars from friends or family are legally entitled to the same protection against police searches as the authorized driver," wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority opinion. "There may be countless innocuous reasons why an authorized driver might get behind the wheel of a rental car and drive it."

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. (USSC)
White House Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco had urged the justices to hold Mr. Byrd to the terms of the rental agreement. "It is common knowledge that car rentals are a personal transaction that does not make the car available for general enjoyment and that the straw man car rentals disserve society by frustrating law enforcement efforts to prevent smuggling and other crimes," he argued.

What is unusual about the Supreme Court ruling in this case is the fact the high court affirmed the defendant's conviction but the justices sent back to the lower appellate court to address important issues as it relates to whether the defendant was entitled to expectation of privacy and not be subjected to "unreasonable search and seizures."

Here are the remanded issues the appeals court, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, must now consider

(1) Whether an individual "who intentionally uses a third party to obtain a rental car by a fraudulent scheme for the purpose of committing a crime lacks a reasonable expectation of privacy in the rental car driven by the defendant."

(2) Whether the officers had probable cause to search the rental car, and whether these or other issues warrant further remand to the District Court or such issues should be addressed by the court in the first instance.

(3) And if police had any other probable cause to stop Byrd other than the original traffic stop.

New York criminal defense attorney Robert M. Loeb, who argued Byrd's case before the high court, told Drug War Chronicle, "Now we must revisit the same issues that the District Court and the Third Circuit have already decided in favor of the government," he explained. "If the lower court reiterates that officers had probable cause to stop and search the car and seize the drugs under their probable cause theory," Byrd stays in prison," because then the Fourth Amendment doesn't protect him," Loeb explained.

David Rudovsky, a Penn State Professor and search and seizure expert, told the Chronicle, "As the court stated, there is no bright-line rule for second drivers; my view is that long as the driver is not a thief or carjacker, there is a good claim to an expectation of privacy."

The ACLU and the National Criminal Defense Lawyer Association filed a friend brief in Byrd's case, claiming the Supreme court's ruling would likely have an outsized effect on black and Hispanic drivers. "There is a commonly held misconception that car rental is a luxury reserved for the wealthiest individuals," the ACLU filing said. To prove their facts, the ACLU noted that a 2010 tax study found "that more car rentals occur at neighborhood locations than at airport locations."

Studies have shown that black drivers are more likely than white ones to be pulled over by the police and more likely to be searched during the stop.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, Byrd's attorneys had argued: "Whether he was on the car rental agreement was actually irrelevant to whether he had a reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment."

Byrd's attorney had also previously argued before the Third Circuit and the Supreme Court that "millions of car rentals take place annually in the United States." They insisted that if the government won, "Police would have an incentive to pull over a rental car driver who commits a traffic violation because police would know they could search the car if the driver wasn't listed on the rental agreement."

Suspicious Traffic Stop

Terence Byrd's journey to the nation's Supreme Court began on September 17, 2014, at a Budget car rental in Wayne, New Jersey. While Byrd waited outside, Latasha Reed, his girlfriend with whom he sired five children, went into Budget and signed an agreement to rent a new Ford Fusion. Reed's car rental agreement explicitly stated that additional drivers would only be allowed with "prior written consent." Reed did not add Byrd or any other drivers onto the rental agreement.

Driving a rental doesn't mean you give up your rights (Creative Commons)
Once a Budget employee finalized the paperwork, Reed gave the keys to Byrd, who began his trek toward Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. While driving near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Byrd came upon State Trooper David Long who later claimed he stopped Byrd for either driving too long in an illegal left lane or while Byrd gripped the steering wheel at the "10 and 2" position, which is known as a "hand play" that many drivers use while holding a vehicle's steering wheel in an unsafe manner, notwithstanding an additional fact that Byrd's driver's seat was too far back reclined!

After running Byrd's driver's license the trooper discovered Byrd had given an alias name of James Carter, and also under Byrd's real name, he had a New Jersey arrest warrant. Ignoring Byrd's right to refuse to consent to a search--officers later claimed Byrd consented to the search--the officers searched the vehicle's trunk and hit the jackpot: 49 bricks of heroin and a police vest. Officers arrested Byrd and subsequently charged him with possession/intent to sell heroin and possession of body armor by a felon.

At a suppression hearing on June 16, 2015, held before Judge Caldwell, State Trooper David Long reiterated the suspicious events that led him to pull Byrd over, which included the officer saying he was unable to see Byrd due to the reclined seat, the "10 and 2" driving position, and the traffic violation.

Byrd's attorney was incredulous: "So the only reason you pulled out to stop my client was the fact he was at "10 and 2" -- and you couldn't see him in the car because his driver's seat reclined too far back?" the lawyer asked. Trooper Long nodded affirmatively.

Byrd's lawyer also drilled the officer about the notion that Byrd's race may have played a role for the officer to stop him. Then, surprisingly, Trooper Long mentioned a third factor that triggered the stop. "In a rental vehicle, he said. "That's what drew my attention to it, yes."

This is when the vehicle rental contract collided with the Fourth Amendment, which forbids unreasonable search and seizure. Trooper Long said he explained to Byrd that he was free to search the car without Byrd's consent because Byrd's name wasn't on the car rental agreement.

After a federal judge refused to throw out the evidence, Byrd accepted a plea bargain for a 10-year prison sentence in exchange for the right to appeal the conviction based on the argument the search violated Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

Whether Byrd prevails at the lower court during a hearing scheduled either later in June or July remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Byrd and his attorneys await the outcome with bated breath. Hopefully, the Fourth Amendment wins again. Stay tuned -- we will keep you informed of the outcome.

Chronicle AM: FDA Approves First Marijuana Drug, Mexican Ire Over Border Policy, More... (6/25/18)

The first marijuana-based drug is approved by the FDA, Oklahoma votes on medical marijuana tomorrow, Trump's border politics are raising ire and threatening cooperation in Mexico, and more.

Trump's immigration policies are threatening Mexican cooperation with the drug war and other security issues. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Attorney General Wants to Let Localities Extend Marijuana Business Moratoria for Another Year. Attorney General Martha Healey wants to let municipalities extend marijuana business moratoria for twice the time she originally said they needed. She had previously said the moratoria could only last for a year but now wants to double that to two years. The Marijuana Policy Project isn't on board with that: Towns have zoned for tobacco, alcohol, and pharmaceuticals for years," said MPP's Jim Borghesani. "It is a fiction that they need more time to figure out how to zone for cannabis. The only people who will benefit from Maura Healey's ruling are the criminals who have controlled cannabis sales for decades." About 160 cities and towns have a moratorium of some sort in place, most of which were set to expire at the end of the year.

Medical Marijuana

FDA Approves First Marijuana-Based Drug. The Food and Drug Administration has approved GW Pharmaceutical's epilepsy drug Epidiolex. The drug is approved for use in patients two years and older with Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, both rare and treatment-resistant forms of epilepsy. "This approval serves as a reminder that advancing sound development programs that properly evaluate active ingredients contained in marijuana can lead to important medical therapies," said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

Oklahoma Votes on Medical Marijuana Initiative Tuesday. Sooner voters will go to the polls tomorrow to cast their verdict on State Question 788, an initiative that would create a full-fledged medical marijuana program in the state. Democratic voters will also have a chance to vote for former state Sen. Connie Johnson, one of the state's leading medical marijuana proponents, who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Foreign Policy

Colombia Cocaine Production Levels "Unacceptable," US Says. Head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Jim Carroll said Monday that the record level of cocaine production in Colombia is "unacceptable" and blamed increased supply for pushing increased levels of cocaine use in the US. Given that Colombia's newly elected president, Ivan Duque, is a drug war hard-liner -- a shift from the policies of former President Santos -- Colombia is likely to return to pre-Santos policies attacking coca production, including aerial fumigation.

Citing Immigration Policy, Mexican Legislators Call for End to Security Cooperation With US. Mexican lawmakers last week proposed ending cooperation with the US on immigration, counterterrorism, and fighting organized crime (drug trafficking) "as long as President Donald Trump does not act with the respect that migrants deserve." The proposal came from the Congress's Permanent Commission, which meets while Congress is in recess. The lawmakers asked the presidency to "consider the possibility of withdrawing from any bilateral cooperation scheme" with the US on these issues.

International

Russia Poll Finds Very Strong Opposition to Legalizing Soft Drugs. An annual poll conducted by the research firm VTsIOM has 89% of respondents opposing to legalizing "soft drugs," a term generally considered to refer to marijuana. The numbers are in line with poll results from other years, ranging from 85% in 2004 to 93% last year.

Russia Says Canada's Marijuana Legalization Violates International Law. The Russian Foreign Ministry said last Thursday that Canada is violating international drug control treaties by legalizing marijuana. Those treaties do not allow for "flexible interpretation," the ministry said, adding that it expected other Western countries to chastise Canada. "We expect, that Canada's 'arbitrariness' will merit a response from its G7 partners, since this group has repeatedly declared its commitment to the rule of law in interstate relations," the ministry said.

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

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