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Europe's Top Five Cities for Cocaine, Ecstasy, and Speed Use

Do you want to know Europe's true party capitals? The European Monitoring Commission on Drugs and Drug Abuse (EMCDDA) is here to help. Last month it released its latest annual report on drug use levels in 56 European cities in 19 countries.

Raving in Vienna (Wikimedia)
The report relied not on survey results or extrapolations from drug seizures, but a much more direct method: an analysis of daily wastewater samples in the catchment areas of wastewater treatment plants over a one-week period. Researchers analyzed the wastewater from approximately 43 million people, looking for traces of four illicit drugs: amphetamine, methamphetamine, cocaine, and MDMA (ecstasy).

The epidemiological analysis of wastewater is "a rapidly developing scientific discipline with the potential for monitoring close to real-time, population-driven trends in illicit drug use," the EMCDDA points out. Their researchers can now use it to estimate levels of drug use by measuring the levels of drugs and their metabolites excreted into the sewers by urine.

So, which cities are doing the most drugs? We'll give you the top five for each drug, as well as a bit of discussion below:

Amphetamines (milligrams/1,000 people/day)

Eindhoven (Netherlands)     271.7

Antwerp Zuid (Belgium)      268.8

Saarbrucken (Germany)        242.0

Oostende (Belgium)               236.4

Mainz (Germany)                    226.9

The loads of amphetamine detected varied considerably across study locations, with cities in the north and east of Europe reporting much higher levels than in the south. Amphetamine, a working man's drug, was also found more evenly throughout the week than the party drugs, which tend to show up more in weekend samples. Of the top 15 cities, nine were in Germany, three each in Belgium and the Netherlands, and one in Iceland. Berlin came in 10th, Amsterdam 11th.

Cocaine (milligrams/1,000 people/day)

Barcelona (Spain)                  965.2

Zurich (Switzerland)             934.4

Antwerp Zuid (Belgium)      822.9

St. Gallen Hofen (Switzerland)      821.7

Geneva (Switzerland)           794.8

Cocaine use is highest in western and southern European cities, particularly in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK, but Switzerland, with three of the top five and five of the top 10 cokiest cities, certainly deserves mention. Year-to-year figures show that an upward trend first reported in 2016 continues.

MDMA (Ecstasy)(milligrams/1,000 people/day)

Amsterdam (Netherlands)    230.3

Eindhoven (Netherlands)     165.1

Antwerp Zuid (Belgium)      95.3

Zurich (Switzerland)             85.2

Utretcht (Netherlands)          59.8

The Dutch really love their E, taking three of the top five spots, and nearby Antwerp is really starting to look like an unsung drug hotspot, appearing in all three top fives so far. Berlin, Barcelona, Geneva, and Paris are all in the top 10, but at use levels only about one-fifth of Amsterdam.

Methamphetamine (milligrams/1,000 people/day)

Chemnitz (Germany)            240.6

Erfurt (Germany)                 211.2

Budweis (Czech Republic)      200.2

Brno (Czech Republic)            105.7

Dresden (Germany)              180.2

Like plain old amphetamine, meth use generally concentrated in northwest Europe, although the Czech Republic is certainly cranking, too, as it traditionally has. It is most popular in eastern Germany, Finland, and Norway.

One city worth mentioning is notable for its absence from these top fives: Lisbon. Portugal is the only country in Europe to have decriminalized the use and possession of all drugs, but its capital and largest city consistently ranked low-to-middling in drug use levels: The wastewater in Lisbon contained zero methamphetamine, came in 11th for Ecstasy use, 45th for amphetamine use, and 28th for cocaine use.

Those figures from Lisbon strongly suggest that other countries can decriminalize drug use and possession without seeing their populations turned into deranged party animals. In the meantime, the real party animals might want to head to Antwerp.

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

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

New Hampshire, live free and high
Marijuana Policy

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

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

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

International

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

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

From Bloody Drug War to Legal Pot: Ten Global Drug Policy Highlights (and Lowlights) of 2017 [FEATURE]

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has unleashed a drug war that has killed thousands. (Wikimedia)
1. In the Philippines, Duterte's Bloody Drug War Rages On

Undeterred by international criticism, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte continued his murderous war on small-time drug users and sellers throughout 2017, with Human Rights Watch estimating that some 12,000 people -- almost all poor -- have been killed since Duterte unleashed the killers in June 2016. Poor neighborhoods have also been subjected to warrantless searches and door-to-door drug testing, and thousands more people have been imprisoned in insalubrious conditions.

2. Indonesia Starts Going Down Duterte's Path

Indonesian President Joko Widodo must have liked what he was seeing one archipelago over because in July, he started sounding like his Filipino counterpart. To fight the country's "narcotic emergency," he said, police should "gun down" foreigners suspected of drug trafficking if they "resist arrest." At year's end, the National Narcotics agency proudly reported it had killed 79 people in drug raids during 2017, and arrested more than half a million, of whom 1,523 were declared rehabilitated after drug treatment. In 2016, Widodo had ordered that a 100,000 people receive drug treatment, but there don't seem to be any resources for that.

3. Norway Moves to Decriminalize All Drug Use

In December, the Norwegian parliament sent a strong signal that it wants to decriminalize drug use and possession. It voted to pursue such a path, directing the government to begin making changes in the laws to reflect that vote. Legislation that would actually enact the changes has yet to be drafted, but Norway is on the way.

4. Uruguay Legal Marijuana Sales Begin

It took more than three years after the country legalized marijuana before it happened, but it happened this year: Pharmacies began selling marijuana direct to customers in July, making Uruguay the first country in the world to permit the legal production and sale of marijuana.

5. Nevada Becomes 5th US State to Allow Legal Marijuana Sales, More Coming Online Soon

Uruguay may be the first country to legalize marijuana, but now, eight US states and the District of Columbia have done it, and the first four -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- all allow recreational marijuana sales. Four states legalized it in November 2016, but only Nevada got legal sales up and running in 2017. But watch out -- a tidal wave is coming: Legal sales begin in California, with its population of nearly 40 million, on January 1. Oh, and Maine and Massachusetts will begin legal sales sometime in 2018, too.

6. Mexico Drug War Mayhem at Record Levels

Eleven years after then-President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels and sent in the military, things are worse than ever. According to government crime statistics, 2017 was the bloodiest year yet with more than 27,000 murders as splintering drug trafficking organizations fight a multi-sided war among themselves and against the police and military (when the police and military aren't acting on behalf of cartel factions). The year brought other grim milestones as well: More than 200,000 dead, an estimated 30,000 missing, more than 850 clandestine graves uncovered. All to keep Americans well supplied with the drugs we love to hate -- or is it hate to love?

7. Iran Moves to Drastically Reduce Drug Executions

The Islamic Republic has long been one of the world's leading executioners of drug offenders, but that could be about to change. In August, the Iranian parliament approved an amendment that significantly raises the bar for mandatory executions for certain drug offenses. The amendment dramatically increases the quantities of drugs needed to trigger a sentence of death or life in prison and should result in hundreds of people being spared execution each year. But it's not a done deal yet: It still must be approved by the Guardian Council, a body of 12 Islamic jurists, to ensure it complies with the Iranian constitution and their interpretation of sharia law.

Breaking Bad: Kim Jung Un (Flickr)
8. US Heightens Afghan Drug War, First Round of Bombing Campaign Kills Dozens

In August, President Trump authorized new rules of engagement for American forces in Afghanistan, allowing them to target the Taliban directly with air strikes. Previously, air strikes had been allowed only in support of Afghan troop operations or to protect US or NATO troops under attack. In November, US military commanders made the first use of that authority by bombing ten Taliban-controlled opium production facilities in Helmand province, leaving a toll of at least 44 dead. The aim is to disrupt Taliban funding, but it looks like there's plenty more work to do: The Pentagon says the Taliban have another 400 to 500 heroin labs. And with bumper opium crops in 2017, they have plenty of work to do, too.

9. Colombia's Bumper Coca Harvests Prompt US Pressure to Resume Aerial Eradication

Colombia just came off a bumper year for coca and cocaine production, but that's largely an artifact of the peace settlement between the FARC and the government, which offered assistance to coca growers wishing to transition to other crops, thus encouraging farmers to grow coca so they could qualify for the program. But such nuances matter little to the Trump administration, which is pressuring the Colombian government to reinstate the aerial fumigation of coca crops with potentially carcinogenic herbicides.

10. In Sanctions-Busting Move, North Korea Ups Meth Production

The regime in Pyongyang has long been accused of resorting to drug trafficking to help finance its oft-sanctioned military activities, and it looks like it's up to it again. In August came reports that state-affiliated companies and universities were "ramping up" the production of methamphetamine as a means of obtaining desperately needed foreign currency. With more sanctions, expect more North Korean meth.

Four Reasons Black Incarceration Rates Are Going Down, While White Rates Are Going Up [FEATURE]

It's long been a given that tremendous racial disparities plague the nation's criminal justice system. That's still true -- blacks are incarcerated at a rate five times that of whites -- but the racial disparities are decreasing, and there are a number of interesting reasons behind the trend.

That's according to a report released this month by the Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the US criminal justice system. Researchers there reviewed annual reports from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting system and found that between 2000 and 2015, the incarceration rate for black men dropped by nearly a quarter (24%). During the same period, the white male incarceration rate bumped up slightly, the BJS numbers indicate.

When it comes to women, the numbers are even more striking. While the black female incarceration rate plummeted by nearly 50% in the first 15 years of this century, the white rate jumped by a whopping 53%.

And make no mistake: Racial disparities in incarceration rates haven't gone away. As the NAACP notes, African Americans account for only 12 percent of the US population, but 34 percent of the population in jail or prison or on parole or probation. Similarly, black children account for 32 percent of all children who are arrested and more than 50 percent of children who are charged as adults.

In and of itself, increases in the white incarceration rate isn't a good thing. The world's leaders incarcerator state needs to reduce the number of prisoner it holds, especially for nonviolent, mostly low-level offenses such as drug crimes, not just shift who the people are that it incarcerates. Still, the reduction in disparities is at least an improvement, and has come with some reduction in the numbers of minorities being imprisoned.

When it comes to drugs, the NAACP reports, African Americans use drugs in proportion to their share of the population (12.5 percent), but account for 29 percent of all drug arrests and 33 percent of state drug prisoners. Black people still bear the heaviest burden of drug law enforcement.

Still, that that 5:1 ratio for black vs. white male incarceration rates in 2015, was an 8:1 ratio 15 years earlier. Likewise, that 2:1 ration for black vs. white female incarceration rates was a 6:1 ratio in 2000.

"It's definitely optimistic news," Fordham University law professor and imprisonment trends expert John Pfaff told the Marshall Project. "But the racial disparity remains so vast that it's pretty hard to celebrate. How, exactly, do you talk about 'less horrific?'"

So what the heck is going on? These numbers challenge the standard narrative around mass incarceration, if only partially. It behooves analysts and policymakers alike to try to make sense of the changing complexion of the prison population, but that's no easy task.

"Our inability to explains it suggest how poorly we understand the mechanics behind incarceration in general," Pfaff said.

Still, the Marshall Project wanted some answers, so it did more research and interviewed more prison system experts, and here are four theories, not mutually exclusive, that try to provide them:

Crime Has Been Declining Overall

Arrests for nearly all types of crime rose into the mid-1990s, then declined dramatically, affecting African-Americans more significantly than whites since they were (and are) more likely to be arrested by police in the first place. In the first decade of the new century, arrests of black people for violent offenses dropped 22%; for whites, the decline was 11%. Since those offenses are likely to result in substantial prison sentences, this shift has likely contributed to the changing racial makeup of the prison population.

White guys get busted for meth. (Wikimedia)
Shifting Drug War Demographics

The black vs. white disparity in the prosecution of the war on drugs is notorious, and a central tenet of drug reform advocacy. But even though blacks continue to suffer drug arrests, prosecutions, and imprisonment at a far greater rate than whites, something has been happening: According to BJS statistics, the black incarceration rate for drug offenses fell by 16% between 2000 and 2009; at the same time, the number of whites going to prison for drugs jumped by nearly 27%.

This could be because the drug crises of the day, methamphetamines and heroin and prescription opioid addiction, are mainly white people drug problems. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, the drug crisisdu jour was crack cocaine, and even though crack enjoyed popularity among all races, the war on crack was waged almost entirely in black communities. The war on crack drove black incarceration rates higher then, but now cops have other priorities.

The shift in drug war targeting could also explain the dramatic narrowing of the racial gap among women prisoners, because women prisoners are disproportionately imprisoned for drug crimes.

White People Blues

Declining socioeconomic prospects for white people may also be playing a role. Beginning around 2000, whites started going to prison more often for property offenses, with the rate jumping 21% by 2009. Meanwhile, the black incarceration rate for property crimes dropped 9%.

Analysts suggest that an overall decline in life prospects for white people in recent decades may have led to an increase in criminality among that population, especially for crimes of poverty, such as property crimes. A much discussed study by economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton found that between 1998 and 2013, white Americans were experiencing spikes in rates of mortality, suicide, and alcohol and drug abuse. That's precisely when these racial shifts in imprisonment were happening.

And while blacks also faced tough times, many whites were newer to the experience of poverty, which could explain why drug use rates, property crime, and incarceration rates are all up.

Reform is More Likely in the Cities, Where More Black People Live

Since the beginning of this century, criminal justice reform has begun to put the brakes on the mass incarceration engine, but reforms haven't been uniform. They are much more likely to have occurred in more liberal states and big cities than in conservative, rural areas.

In big cities such as Los Angeles and Brooklyn, new prison admissions have plummeted thanks largely to sentencing and other criminal justice reforms. But in counties with fewer than 100,000 residents, the incarceration rate was going up even as crime went down. In fact, people from rural areas are 50% more likely to be sent to prison than city dwellers.

Even in liberal states, the impact of reforms vary geographically. After New York state repealed its draconian Rockefeller drug laws, the state reduced its prison population more than any other state in the country in the 2000s. But the shrinkage came almost entirely from heavily minority New York City, not the whiter, more rural areas of the state.

People in rural districts are now 50 percent more likely to be sent to prison than are city dwellers, as local prosecutors and judges there have largely avoided the current wave of reform. New York offers an illustrative example. It reduced its incarcerated population more than any other state during the 2000s -- but almost entirely through reductions in the far more diverse New York City, not in the whiter and more sparsely populated areas of the state.

Whatever the reason for the shrinking racial disparities in the prison population, there is a long way to go between here and a racially just criminal justice system. If current trends continue, it would still take decades for the disparities to disappear.

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: ME Lawmakers Try to Save MJ Reg Bill from Veto, Denver SIF Advances, More... (11/6/17)

Maine's governor vetoes the marijuana regulation bill, but the legislature will attempt an override today; a plan for a safe injection site in Denver advances, a Michigan roadside drug testing pilot program gets underway this week, and more.

A move is afoot in the legislature to bring a safe injection site to Denver. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Governor Vetoes Bill to Regulate Legal Marijuana Production, Sales. Gov. Paul LePage last Friday vetoed the bill that would regulate legal marijuana commerce in the state. In his veto message, he cited a number of concerns, including how the Trump administration is going to deal with the conflict between state and federal law. "Until I clearly understand how the federal government intends to treat states that seek to legalize marijuana, I cannot in good conscience support any scheme in state law to implement expansion of legal marijuana in Maine," the governor explained.

Maine Lawmakers Meet Today to Try to Override Governor's Veto. The legislature is set to meet at 4:00pm today in a bid to override Gov. LePage's veto of the marijuana regulation bill. The bill passed the Senate, but not the House, by a veto-proof majority earlier this year.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Announces First Licensees for Medical Marijuana Production. State officials announced last Friday they had issued 11 Level II medical marijuana licenses. The licenses will allow holders to begin medical marijuana growing operations.

Drug Testing

Michigan Roadside Drug Testing Pilot Program Begins This Week. Michigan State Police are set to begin a pilot program in five counties to do roadside oral fluid drug tests of drivers in a bid to reduce drugged driving. The counties included are Berrien, Delta, Kent, St. Clair and Washtenaw. Under the program, officers trained in "drug recognition" will be able to require drivers to submit to a preliminary saliva test if they suspect he is impaired. The tests will look for the presence of marijuana, amphetamines, methamphetamines, benzodiazepines, cocaine and opiates.

Harm Reduction

Walgreen's to Carry Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug, No Prescription Needed. Walgreen's drugstores will soon stock the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) at its thousands of locations across the US, and it will be available over the counter, no prescription needed. Walgreen's is the nation's second largest drugstore chain with more than 8,000 stores. "By stocking Narcan in all our pharmacies, we are making it easier for families and caregivers to help their loved ones by having it on hand in case it is needed," Walgreen's vice president Rick Gates said in a statement. "As a pharmacy, we are committed to making Narcan more accessible in the communities we serve."

Denver Starts Down Path Toward Safe Injection Sites. Seattle and San Francisco are the US cities closest to opening safe injection sites for drug users, but now Denver is making a move in the same direction. A legislative committee last week gave unanimous approval to a plan to open a pilot site in the city. But that's just a first step: The next step is to get the legislation through the General Assembly when the legislature convenes in January.

International

Colombia, UNODC Sign Cooperation Agreement on Coca and Cocaine. In a deal announced last Friday, Colombia and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have agreed to cooperate on the county's coca reduction strategy. Under the deal, the UNODC will help Colombia implement "alternative and sustainable development programs in areas affected by coca cultivation," according to a press release from the Colombian presidency. The plan is estimated to require $315 million in funding over the next four years. The question is whether Colombia has the political will to come up with the money.

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: Houston Quits Trying "Trace Amount" Drug Cases, US Chides Colombia, More... (9/28/17)

San Antonio quits arresting small-time pot violators, Houston quits prosecuting folks caught with trace amounts of drugs, Vermont begins pondering how to do pot legalization, the US chides Colombia on coca and the FARC, and more.

With moves in Houston and San Antonio, change is coming to the Lone Star State.
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Marijuana Commission Begins Legalization Study. The state Marijuana Advisory Commission is holding its first meeting today. The commission is charged with studying the best way to legalize marijuana in the state. Gov. Phil Scott (R) empaneled the commission after vetoing a legalization bill in May. In his veto message, Scott said he wasn't opposed to legalization, but had concerns about underage use and impaired driving. The commission is set to report back to the legislature in January.

San Antonio to Quit Arresting People for Pot Possession. Authorities in Bexar County (San Antonio) announced Wednesday that they will no longer arrest small-time marijuana and other misdemeanor offenders, instead issuing them citations. People cited must complete a program before charges are dismissed. San Antonio now joins Harris County (Houston) and Dallas in enacting policies to no longer arrest small-time pot offenders.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Lawmakers Seek to Keep Dispensaries Open. As the state prepares to shift to a new regime allowing licensed dispensaries, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has tentatively asked all existing dispensaries to shut down by December 15 and seek licenses. But some legislators have filed House Bill 5014, which would allow dispensaries to stay open while their license applications are pending before the department. A Senate version of the bill is expected to be filed shortly.

Law Enforcement

Houston Stops Prosecuting Cases of Trace Amounts of Drugs. Harris County (Houston) District Attorney Kim Ogg has quit pursuing thousands of "trace drug" cases, where people are charged with drug possession based on drug residues left in baggies or syringes. Ogg actually quietly implemented the policy in July, but has gone public with it now. The move will save the county the cost of prosecuting somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 felony cases each year.

Sentencing

New House Bill Creates Incentives to Reduce Crime, Incarceration at Same Time. Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA) filed the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act of 2017 on Wednesday. Companion legislation, Senate Bill 1458, was filed in June by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). The bill would essentially reverse the 1994 crime bill, which provided incentives to states to increase prison populations. It would instead pay states to decrease incarceration rates through incentivizing grants.

International

US Ambassador to Colombia Says FARC Has Not Complied With Peace Deal. "The FARC have not complied, in my opinion, with their obligations under the agreement," US Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker said during a recent interview with El Tiempo. Whitaker claimed the leftist rebels continued to encourage coca cultivation in some parts of the country and said they should not be involved in government-sponsored crop substitution programs. Whitaker's comments are in line with other US officials, who have become increasingly critical of the peace deal between the FARC and the government as coca and cocaine production have increased in the past two years.

Philippines Claims It Doesn't Allow Extrajudicial Killings in Drug War. In a statement released as Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano met in Washington with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Philippines government denied it had a policy of killing suspected drug users and dealers. "Contrary to media reports, Cayetano also clarified to Tillerson that the Philippines does not have a state policy allowing extrajudicial killings, especially of illegal drug suspects," the statement read. The statement also welcomed further cooperation with Washington and reiterated the "seriousness" of the country's "drug problem." Thousands of people have been killed since President Duterte unleashed his drug war, but the Philippines claims it only kills suspects who were violently resisting arrest.

Chronicle AM: Las Vegas MJ Lounges Hit Snag, Utah MedMJ Init Polling Well, More... (9/20/17)

The Bay State's highest court just made it harder for cops to charge people with marijuana-impaired driving, Las Vegas-area county commissioners put a stop to talk of pot lounges anytime soon, Colombia's president speaks out against the drug war (again) at the United Nations, and more.

Don't hold your breathing waiting for marijuana lounges in Vegas. It could be awhile. (Wikipedia)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Court Rules Drivers' Field Sobriety Tests Not Valid for Marijuana. The state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled Tuesday that the field sobriety tests used in drunk driving cases cannot be used as conclusive evidence that a driver was driving high. Police officers could testify as non-expert witnesses about how drivers performed in the field sobriety tests, but cannot tell juries if a driver passed or failed the test, nor provide their own opinions about whether a driver was too high to drive, the court held. The court noted that there is no reliable scientific measure for marijuana impairment, as there is with blood alcohol content.

Nevada's Clark County Says Not So Fast to Las Vegas Pot Lounges. Clark County commissioners are in no hurry to give an okay for marijuana social consumption clubs in Las Vegas. In a Tuesday meeting, they voted 6-1 to hold off on moving to allow and regulate such clubs. The move comes after attorneys for the state legislature issued an opinion saying there is no state law prohibiting the establishment of pot social clubs. Commissioners said they had regulatory concerns, as well as fears of "inviting the feds" to intervene.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Poll has Very Strong Support for Medical Marijuana Initiative. A proposed medical marijuana initiative from the Utah Patients Coalition has supermajority levels of support, according to a new UtahPolicy.com poll. The poll has support for the initiative at 74%, with only 22% opposed. More strikingly, it also has support among Mormon Church members at 63%, even the Mormon leadership has announced its opposition. The initiative push comes after the legislature has repeatedly refused to pass a medical marijuana bill.

Detroit Initiatives Qualify for November Ballot. Two local ballot measures that would open up business opportunities for medical marijuana in the city will go before voters in November. One measure would formally have the city join the state medical marijuana regulatory system and the other would amend the city's cannabis business zoning laws. The two measures overcame a challenge from the Detroit Elections Commission and have now been approved by the county election commission.

International

Colombian President Uses UN Speech to Call for New Approach to Drugs. President Juan Manuel Santos used the occasion of his final speech before the United Nations to repeat his call for a change in the way the world wages the war on drugs. Saying that under drug prohibition, "the remedy has been worse than the disease," he argued that the drug war "has not been won, nor is being won and we require new approaches and new strategies." Santos' remarks came just days after President Trump criticized Colombia for an increase in coca and cocaine production and threatened to decertify the country as cooperating with US drug war aims.

Chronicle AM: WA Ponders Personal NJ Grows, Trump Chastises Colombia Over Coca, More... (9/15/17)

The only legal marijuana state that doesn't allow personal cultivation will revisit the issue, the president chides Colombia and Colombia reacts, there's strong support for legalization in New Jersey, and more.

Colombian cocaine exports are on the increase. (Spanish police)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Vetoes Marijuana Packaging Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has vetoed Senate Bill 663, which would have specified conditions under which cannabis packaging would be deemed attractive to children and therefore banned. Although the bill was approved unanimously by the Assembly and Senate. Brown does not want new marijuana regulations except those developed through his office and regulatory agencies.

New Jersey Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new Quinnipiac poll has support for legalization at 59% among state voters. But the poll questions didn't ask about regulated and taxed sales; it only asked whether respondents supported "allowing adults to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for recreational use." The state is expected to see a strong push for legalization in the legislature next year.

Washington to Consider Whether to Allow Personal Pot Grows. The state Liquor and Cannabis Control Board announced Thursday that it will hold a hearing on October 4 to seek public input on whether to allow residents to grow pot plants for their own use. Washington is the only legal pot state that bars personal grows, but the state legislature approved a bill telling the agency to look into options for allowing personal grows.

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Governor Signs PTSD Bill. Gov. John Carney (D) has signed into law a bill that allows people with PTSD to more easily qualify for medical marijuana. The new law allows PTSD patients to get a recommendation from any licensed physician; the old law required they receive recommendations only from licensed psychiatrists.

International

Trump Threatens to Decertify Colombia as Drug War Partner. In comments Wednesday as the State Department rolled out its annual list of reliable drug war partners, President Trump delivered not so veiled threats to Colombia over increased coca cultivation. Trump said he "seriously considered" decertifying the country because of the "extraordinary" growth in coca cultivation and cocaine production last year. He said he decided against decertification this year because the Colombian military is close partners with the US, but that he would keep it as an "option" and that he expected "significant progress" from Colombia in reducing output.

Colombia Rejects Trump Criticism. The government of President Juan Manuel Santos took issue with Trump's comments: "Colombia is without a doubt the country which most has fought drugs, and which has had the most success on that front," the government said in an early morning statement. "No one has to threaten us to confront this challenge."

Ontarians Are Liking the Notion of Government-Run Pot Shops. A Campaign Research poll released Thursday found that the province's plan to restrict marijuana sales to a government monopoly has fairly strong public support. Some 51% backed the idea, with 35% opposed and 14% with no opinion.

Drug War Issues

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