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Chronicle AM: James Carroll Approved as Drug Czar, Tijuana's Bloody 2018, More... (1/3/19)

Pennsylvania lawmakers are moving on marijuana legalization, the Trump administration finally gets a permanent drug czar, Tijuana saw a bloody year last year, and more.

Colombian coca farmers have been busy expanding their crop, and the US is concerned. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Get Moving on Legalization. On Wednesday, legalization proponent Sen. Daylin Leach (D) revealed that he and Sen. Sharif Street (D) are in the final stages of preparing a bill to legalize marijuana. On Thursday, Rep. Jake Wheatley Jr. (D) sent out a cosponsorship memo seeking support for a soon-to-filed House bill he described as "the most comprehensive legalization legislation to date."

Drug Policy

Senate Approves James Carroll as Drug Czar. James Carroll, who has been acting head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) since February, was confirmed as director Wednesday in one of the last acts of the lame duck Senate. Now, after nearly two years without a drug czar, the White House finally has a top drug policy advisor other than Kellyanne Conway.

Foreign Policy

Pompeo "Concerned" Over Colombia Coca Cultivation Increase. In a meeting with Colombian President Ivan Duque Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US is deeply concerned about rising levels of coca cultivation there. He also said the US would work with Colombia to cut production in half within five years.

International

Tijuana Saw 2,500 Murders Last Year as Drug Wars Raged. The state attorney general's office released a year-end report on December 31 saying that Tijuana had seen 2,499 registered homicides in 2018, but more bodies were found before day's end, bringing the toll past 2,500. The report said about 85% of the killings were related to the drug trade, especially a turf war between the New Generation Tijuana Cartel (aligned with the New Generation Jalisco Cartel) and the Sinaloa Cartel. But some of the killings are a result of factional fights within the Sinaloa Cartel over lucrative street-level markets and smuggling routes to the US.

The Year in Drugs II: Good, Bad, and Ugly Global Drug Policy in 2018 [FEATURE]

(See our Top Domestic Drug Stories of 2018 piece here.)

It's been a year we couldn't wait to put behind us, but as 2018 comes to an end, we can look back on some advances on the international drug policy front, as well as continued brutal and regressive responses from some quarters. Here are 10 of the global drug policy stories that shaped the year, for better or worse:

Iranian drug executions have come to a screeching halt in one of the good news stories of 2018. (handsoffcain.info)
1. Drug Death Penalty Reforms Cause Massive Drop in Executions

Early this year, it became official: Iran had reformed its death penalty statutes to radically reduce the number of people facing execution for drug offenses, and it had done so retroactively, saving the lives of thousands already on death row. By mid-year, it was clear that the move was having an impact, as human rights observers reported a 99% reduction in drug executions, with only one person being executed for drugs as of June, compared to more than a hundred during the same period in 2017.

2. Canada Becomes the First G8 Country to Legalize Marijuana

Justin Trudeau pledged that he was elected prime minister, his government would legalize marijuana. It didn't happen as fast as he would have liked, but the Liberals' legalization bill passed parliament in June and went into effect on October 17. So far, the sky has not fallen.

3. Medical Marijuana Earns Growing Acceptance

The year began with Thailand announcing a plan to allow medical marijuana and ended with Thailand approving it and becoming the first Southeast Asian country to do so. But in the meantime, Israeli pharmacies began selling medical marijuana in April, Zimbabwe legalized it in May, and Portugal and Luxembourg followed suit in June. In November, Great Britain joined the club, and Greece issued its first medical marijuana production licenses. Late in the year, in South Korea, the National Assembly approved an amendment to the country's drug laws that will pave the way for the use of medical marijuana by prescription, and New Zealand also approved it in December Not a bad year for medical marijuana.

Canadian Senate
4. The Philippines Drug War Continues, But Pressures Mount…

The bloody drug war of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte continued apace in 2018, with a death toll now put at 12, 000 (20,000 by some estimates), but Duterte has come under increasing pressure both domestically and internationally. In February, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch aimed broadsides at the Philippines even as the International Criminal Court began "preliminary examinations" of whether there is sufficient evidence to bring a case before the court. In March, activists called out drug war human rights abuses at the embassy in Washington, DC. By July, an unbowed Duterte was vowing to continue a "relentless and chilling" drug war even as national human rights groups said he was using it as a cover for assassinating political opponents. In September, he unleashed an attack on a second drug war critic, Senator Antonio Trillanes, after last year imprisoning critic Senator Leila de Lima on trumped up drug charges. She is still imprisoned.

5.. ...and the Rot Spreads in the Region

Following the lead of the Philippines, other countries in the region have also embraced drug war thuggery and human rights abuses. In May, the Bangladeshi opposition warned of a wave of police killings of drug suspects, and within weeks, more than a hundred were killed and 20,000 arrested, even as evidence emerged that the crackdown was being used to hide political assassinations. The situation was fraught enough that the UN human rights head and even the US State Department expressed concern. Drug war killings were also reported in Indonesia, although there were mixed signals about moves toward reforms there, and Sri Lanka vowed to begin hanging drug dealers. Paradoxically though, a Malaysian court's imposition of a death sentence on a man for providing cannabis oil to patients now appears to have resulted in a moratorium on the death sentence and could end the death penalty in its entirety in the county.

6. The US President Aligns Himself With Global Drug War Authoritarians

President Donald Trump was a baleful presence on the global drug policy stage this past year, sympathizing with drug war authoritarians such as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, as well as drug death penalty countries such as China and Singapore. He said early in the year he wants to execute all drug dealers and admires the Singapore approach (mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking), a statement that moved more than 150 organizations to condemn his call. At year's end, he was singing a similar tune with a ghoulish call for more Chinese drug executions. In between, he went to the United Nations to try to gin up a reinvigorated global drug war.

coca leaves drying by highway
7. South Africa Legalizes Marijuana

In a case brought by three marijuana users, the country's Constitutional Court ruled that the private possession, cultivation, and consumption of marijuana is legal. "It will not be a criminal offense for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption," Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo wrote in his ruling. It will, however, remain illegal to use cannabis in public and to sell and supply it. The ruling did not set allowable quantities, with the court saying parliament had two years to come up with a new law that reflected the ruling.

8. Glimmers of Hope in Mexico

then-President Felipe Calderon unleashed the latest chapter of the country's drug wars, bringing violence to levels not seen before in the country, Mexico is showing signs it is ready for change. The death toll from prohibition-related violence is higher than ever, and that is impelling a psh for change, most notably with the election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is very open to finding exits from the drug war, whether it's legalized opium production in Guerrero, granting amnesty for non-violent drug trafficking offenders, or legalizing marijuana. And speaking of legalizing marijuana, the Mexican Supreme Court in November struck down the ban on marijuana possession, cultivation, and use. Now, Lopez Obrador's governing MORENA Party has filed a bill to legalize marijuana sales. Tackling the violence, may be a bit more difficult.

9. Colombia Sees a Record Coca Crop as US Cocaine Deaths Rise

Efforts to reduce coca cultivation and cocaine production in the country after the peace agreement with the FARC rebels have not gone well, and that's causing rising worry in Washington. In June, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that 2017 production was at an all-time high, prompting expressions of concern from the drug czar's office and support from President Trump for new rightist Colombian President Ivan Duque's "head-on fight against drug trafficking." That could include a renewed resort to aerial fumigation, even drones, as well as forced eradication of coca crops, leading to renewed conflict in cultivation zones. Meanwhile, cocaine is now the third leading cause of drug overdose deaths, trailing only fentanyl and heroin.

Vienna International Centre, home to the UN drug agencies
10. Historic UN Cannabis Review Hits Last-Minute Procedural Delay

In June and again in November, the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) of the World Health Organization (WHO) met to consider the evidence on cannabis (marijuana) and its placement in the UN drug scheduling system, which determines whether or what level of control the UN drug conventions mandate that countries maintain for the substance. The conventions specify that substances should receive such an evaluation before being scheduled, but that never happened for marijuana. Observers believe the process should lead to marijuana being moved to a less restrictive schedule than it is in currently -- if the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) votes to adopt such a recommendation from ECDD.

That didn't happen when, earlier this month, WHO voted to delay release of ECDD's recommendations until January, for unexplained reasons. That may mean they get taken up at the main annual CND meeting in Vienna in March, rather than December's intersessional. The delay seems unusual, and probably political, but its intent is unclear.

The next few months may tell. In the meanwhile, ECDD says that CBD shouldn't be scheduled at all. But that didn't stop the US FDA from saying that treaties require it be scheduled, even though they also think it shouldn't be.

Chronicle AM: Legal MJ Shortages, Mexico to Move Toward Legal MJ Market, More... (11/3/18)

The Granite State has a new guide to marijuana legalization, ONDCP releases coca cultivation and cocaine production figures for Peru and Bolivia, Canada suffers legal pot shortages, and more.

North America is becoming a very weed-friendly continent. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Commission Issues Marijuana Legalization Report. The Commission to Study the Legalization, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana has released its report, complete with 54 separate recommendations on how legalization should be implemented. Among them are creating a state-level Cannabis Commission to regulate it, similar to the way the state regulates alcohol. The group estimated that legalization could bring in revenue of $36.6 million a year once the market stabilizes, and possibly reaching $47 million. The report is designed to help guide any legislative moves toward legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Regulators Reject Bid to Raise THC Cap on New Medications. The state's Medical Cannabinoid Board voted unanimously last Friday to rebuff an effort to raise the 3% THC cap on new medications. Proponents argued that more THC is more effective in treating some conditions, while critics worried that lifting the limit could encourage abuse. "I'd like to get another year or two under our belts and see how people respond with the current THC cap," said board member Lonny Miller, a family physician from Creston.

Foreign Policy

ONDCP Releases Data on Coca Cultivation and Cocaine Production in Peru and Bolivia. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) released the US government's annual estimates of coca cultivation and cocaine production for Bolivia and Peru last Friday. Although Peru produces more coca and cocaine than Bolivia, and although Peru's coca cultivation and potential cocaine production are trending up while Bolivia's are trending down, ONDCP was more critical of Bolivia. "The ongoing coca --cultivation in both Peru and Bolivia pose a threat for us as a nation, and aggravates our domestic drug addiction crisis," said ONDCP Deputy Director Jim Carroll. "It is important that our governments work together to take action against cultivation and production, and to save lives of those affected by drug trafficking. Peru continues to be a great partner and we have a shared responsibility to address this problem. In Bolivia, we would like to see real efforts against cultivation and production."

International

Canada Struggles to Meet Huge Demand for Legal Marijuana. Just two weeks after legal retail marijuana sales began, Canadian pot retailers -- both physical and online -- are having problems dealing with unexpectedly high demand. In much of the country, the legal supply has almost entirely dried up. "There is not enough legal marijuana to supply all of recreational demand in Canada," said Rosalie Wyonch, a policy analyst at the CD Howe Institute. "The shortages are happening faster than I would have expected, but our research suggested quite strongly that there would be shortages in the first year of legalization."

Colombia Announces New Strategy to Disrupt Drug Trade. Last Thursday, Colombian Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martinez announced a new "disruption policy" of going after the cocaine trade by cutting access to alkaloids and power sources in rural areas. He called for "petrochemical innovation" so that fuels stop yielding the factors needed to create cocaine hydrochloride, as well as restricting the sale of government-subsidized gasoline in cocaine and marijuana producing regions. But one analysis says the proposals "might sound innovative on paper but are unlikely to have a major impact on the drug trade and may end up hurting long-suffering residents."

Mexico's Ruling Party Plans Legislation To Legalize Marijuana Sales. Less than a week after the country's Supreme Court ruled that laws barring the personal use, possession, and cultivation of marijuana are unconstitutional, key figures in the ruling MORENA Party are already moving to craft legislation to create a legal marijuana market. First, they say, they will move to repeal the now null and void criminal laws against marijuana, and then, "We are going to take a step forward in the regulation that may already involve the production, marketing and distribution of marijuana," said Olga Sánchez Cordero, a senator who is expected to become interior secretary in the incoming government of President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador. "I say it from the heart: we celebrate it, the Court is setting a marvelous precedent for us to walk in that direction," Sánchez added.

Chronicle AM: MA Pot Shops to Open This Month, Coca Comes to Central America, More... (11/2/18)

A record number of gubernatorial candidates are endorsing marijuana legalization, Bay State pot shops will be open this month, cartels are experimenting with coca production in Central America, and more.

A cocaine lab discovered by Honduran authorities last year. (Honduran Prosecutor's Office)
Marijuana Policy

Record Number of Governor Candidates Call for Marijuana Legalization. A new analysis from Marijuana Moment finds that at least 21 major party gubernatorial candidates support legalizing marijuana, far more than any previous election cycle. But there are differences: Some candidates make legalization a centerpiece of their campaigns, while others embrace it only reluctantly or if pressed on the issue. For a list of those pro-legalization would-be governors, click on the link.

California Cities, Counties to Vote on Marijuana Taxes. More than two dozen cities and counties will have marijuana taxation proposals on their local ballots next week. Among the most controversial proposals is a San Francisco move to impose a 5% tax on gross sales receipts. That would come on top of the 15% state retail tax and the city's 8.75% sales tax, meaning pot sales would be taxed at a whopping 28.75%. The fear is the high levels of taxation will drive potential purchasers to the black market.

Massachusetts Legal Marijuana Sales to Begin This Month, State Says. The chairman of the state's Cannabis Control Commission said Thursday that legal marijuana sales would get underway "within the next week or two" after final inspections of pot shops are performed. "Everything is happening as quickly as we can," Chairman Steven Hoffman said. "There are no lags. We're working closely with the licensees so they understand the process. We're getting very close." It's been two years next week since Bay State voters approved marijuana legalization.

Medical Marijuana

First FDA-Approved Marijuana-Based Drug Now Available by Prescription. As of Thursday, the marijuana-based drug Epidiolex is now available by prescription in all 50 states. The FDA approved the drug in June, but manufacturer GW Pharmaceuticals had to wait for the DEA to reclassify its compounds out of Schedule I before it could begin selling it. That has now happened. Epidiolex is used for treating a rare form of epilepsy and a genetic btylerain dysfunction called Dravet syndrome, both of which can cause seizures.

International

Cocaine Production Beginning to Pop Up in Central America. Cocaine production is starting to pop up in Central America, a development that could bring the supply of the drug closer to the US. Officials in Guatemala and Honduras have found at least four separate coca plantings this year and last year. Although the total acreage involved -- about 125 acres -- is a tiny fraction of total coca planting, local officials said the fields constituted pilot projects by drug cartels exploring whether they can reduce transportation costs and risk by moving their product from major cocaine-producing countries to Central America.

(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 website. 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.)

Chronicle AM: Trump Marijuana Plans, More Cases Thrown Out in MA Drug Lab Scandal, More... (10/12/18)

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) says the president will move on marijuana policy after the election, the Supreme Court will hear an important asset forfeiture case later this year, thousands more drug defendants will see drug charges dismissed in the Massachusetts drug lab scandal, and more.

Rep. Dana Rohrabcher (R-CA) says the Trump administration will move on marijuana policy after the election. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Trump Plans To Back Legal Medical Marijuana After Midterms, GOP Congressman Says. In an interview with Fox Business on Thursday, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said that he had been talking with people inside the White House about ending marijuana prohibition. Rohrabacher added that he's been "reassured that the president intends on keeping his campaign promise" to protect state marijuana policies from federal interference. He didn't point to any specific legislation but said details would begin to take shape after the election. "I would expect after the election we will sit down and we'll start hammering out something that is specific and real," he said. "It could be as early as spring of 2019, but definitely in the next legislative session," he said.

Asset Forfeiture

Supreme Court to Hear Asset Forfeiture Case Later This Year. The US Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in an important asset forfeiture case on November 28. The case is Timbs (and a 2012 Land Rover) v. Indiana, in which Tyson Timbs appeals the seizure of his vehicle after he was arrested for selling heroin to undercover police officers. Timbs bought the vehicle with proceeds from his late father's life insurance policy -- not drug profits -- and argues that seizing the vehicle amounts to a violation of the 8th Amendment's ban on excessive fines. A state appeals court had overturned the seizure, calling it "grossly disproportional," but the state Supreme Court vacated that decision on the grounds the ban on excessive fines does not apply to the states.

Criminal Justice

Massachusetts High Court Orders Dismissal of Thousands of Cases in Drug Lab Chemist Scandal. The state's Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday ordered the dismissal of thousands of additional drug convictions due to the misconduct of Amherst drug lab chemist Sonja Farak, some dating back as far as 2004. "We conclude that Farak's widespread evidence tampering has compromised the integrity of thousands of drug convictions apart from those the Commonwealth has agreed should be vacated and dismissed," wrote Justice Frank Gaziano in the court's 61-page unanimous decision. "Her misconduct, compounded by prosecutorial misconduct, requires that this court exercise its superintendence authority and vacate and dismiss all criminal convictions tainted by government wrongdoing." Farak has pleaded guilty to stealing drug samples to feed her addiction. State prosecutors had already agreed to dismiss some 8,000 cases. Now there will be thousands more, though an exact number is not immediately available.

International

Colombia Coca Farmers Protest Against Forced Crop Eradication. Coca-growing peasants set up roadblocks on Thursday to protest against the forced eradication of coca crops and fumigation measures. The farmers in several municipalities of Norte de Santander are demanding to be included in the program of crop substitution so they have an alternative to growing coca. Farmers in Cucuta and El Zulia blocked two main local highways. They are members of the National Coordination of Cultivators of Coca, Poppy and Marijuana and the Campesino Association of Catatumbo.

Chronicle AM: Bad Drug Bill Dropped From Fed Opioid Package, Acapulco Cops Disarmed, More... (9/26/18)

A bad provision gets stripped out of the congressional opioid package, a Pennsylvania legislator files a legalization bill, Mexican Marines disarm Acapulco cops, and more.

The Mexican military disarms all the cops in Acapulco amidst allegations of drug gang links. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania State Rep Files Bill to Legalize Marijuana. State Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) has introduced a bill to legalize marijuana for adults and expunge the records of people convicted of past pot-related crimes. "My bill would immediately release people jailed for crimes associated with cannabis," Wheatley said in a news release. "Those who have criminal histories related to cannabis would be expunged, and professional and driver's licenses that were revoked or suspended due to cannabis-related crimes would be reinstated. For far too long, the criminal justice system has unfairly punished Pennsylvanians, especially minorities, who are caught with cannabis." The bill also would create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. It's not yet available on the legislative website.

Drug Policy

Damaging Drug War Provision Excluded From Congressional Opioid Package. Late last night, the final text for the Congressional opioid package was released. SITSA, a sweeping bill expanding penalties on synthetic drugs and the broader war on drugs -- passed the House in July, and was expected to be included in the final bill. But a coalition of drug policy and criminal justice reform groups managed to push back against its inclusion, successfully keeping it out of the bill. "This is a huge win for public health over outdated drug war approaches," said Michael Collins of the Drug Policy Alliance's national office. "The bill would have expanded mass incarceration, while worsening the overdose crisis. It would have given Jeff Sessions unprecedented powers to schedule drugs and set draconian new criminal penalties. To pull this back from the brink after it easily passed the House only two months ago is a tremendous victory."

Pennsylvania Supreme Court to Decide Whether Maternal Drug Use Equals Child Abuse. The state's highest court on Tuesday began weighing whether women who abuse drugs during their pregnancies can be punished under state law as child abusers. The court has never addressed the matter, which is again igniting debate as the opioid crisis spawns a new generation of babies born dependent on their mothers' drugs. The justices heard oral arguments in the case of a woman who gave birth in January 2017 to a child who spent 19 days in the hospital being treated for drug withdrawal. The woman had tested positive for marijuana, opioids, and anxiety drugs. The child was taken into custody by Children and Youth Services, and the mother was charged with child abuse.

New Psychoactive Substances

DC Mayor Backs Bill Penalizing Dealers of Synthetic Cannabinoids. Mayor Muriel Bowser has proposed emergency legislation to go after dealers in synthetic cannabinoids as the District suffers from a spike in "fake weed" overdoses. "This is not marijuana," Bowser said at a Tuesday news conference. "The effects are very different, and they can be deadly." The city already prohibits the sale of synthetic drugs, but this bill would expand that ban.

International

Mexican Marines Disarm Entire Acapulco Police Force Over Links to Drug Gangs. Authorities in the state of Guerrero disarmed and placed under investigation the entire police force of Acapulco, the state's largest city, claiming the local police were infiltrated by drug gangs. Two top Acapulco police commanders were also charged with homicide. Last year, Acapulco had a murder rate of 103 per 100,000 residents, one of the highest in the world.

Venezuela Calls on Colombia to Take Action on Drug Trafficking. The Foreign Ministry called Tuesday for its eastern neighbor to "assume international responsibilities for the damage caused by the drug trafficking industry." Caracas wants Bogota to redouble its anti-trafficking efforts in light of the "alarming increase" in coca cultivation in Colombia reported by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime last week. "For the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, it is even more worrisome that, according to said report, one of the most affected departments is precisely the north of Santander, bordering Venezuela, from where groups of drug trafficking and paramilitary violence are constantly attacking the population, the economy, and Venezuelan institutions. Venezuela urges the Colombian authorities to make sincere and effective efforts to assume international responsibilities for the damage caused by the drug trafficking industry to neighboring countries and the world," the ministry said.

[Disclosure: Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of the organization that publishes this newsletter.]

Chronicle AM: Coalition to Fight House "Drug War" Provision, Colombia Coca Crop at Record High, More... (9/20/18)

A provision in the House opioid bill that would let the attorney general set sentences for synthetic drug offenses generates opposition, Colombia's coca production was at record levels last year, the DEA has okayed the import of Canadian marijuana for research purposes, and more.

Colombia peasand farmer in his coca field. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Governor Calls for Sheriff's Resignation After Racist Weed Comments. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is calling for the resignation of Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino after a tape emerged of him making racist comments about black people around the topic of marijuana legalization. Although Saudino's remarks were made back in January just after Murphy's inauguration, a recording of them just went public on Wednesday. Here's what he said, referencing Murphy's inaugural address: "He talked about the whole thing, the marijuana, sanctuary state…better criminal justice reform. Christ almighty, in other words, let the blacks come in, do whatever the fuck they want, smoke their marijuana, do this do that, and don’t worry about it," Saudino said. "You know, we’ll tie the hands of cops."

Medical Marijuana

DEA Gives Green Light for Canadian Company to Import Research Marijuana to US. The DEA has granted permission to Canadian marijuana producer Tilray, Inc. to export medical marijuana to California for scientific research purposes. The Food and Drug Administration also signed off on the deal. The marijuana is headed for Dr. Fatta Nahab, an associate professor of neuroscience at the University of California San Diego medical school.

Drug Policy

Left-Right Coalition Builds to Block House Opioids Bill's "Drug War" Provision. As the House and Senate seek to reconcile their versions of bills to address the nation's opioid crisis, groups on the left and right are uniting behind an effort to undo an especially egregious provision in the House version of the bill. Organizations such as the ACLU and Human Rights Watch are joining forces with right-leaning groups like FreedomWorks and the American Conservative Union to remove language that would give the attorney general the power to create a special category for synthetic drugs such as fentanyl and set penalties for those who make or sell them. That would essentially put sentencing policy for those drugs in the hands of the attorney general. "We don’t want any attorney general to have this kind of power," said Jasmine Tyler, advocacy director for the Human Rights Watch US Program. "But I think specifically when we have an attorney general who is so out of touch with this century’s expert thinking on these issues, there should be red flags for that."

International

UNODC Says Colombian Coca Cultivation at All-Time High. The amount of acreage devoted to coca growing in Colombia increased 17% last year to hit a new record high, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime said Wednesday. Some 423,000 acres were under cultivation last year, UNODC said, the largest figure since the UN began keeping records. That will produce more than 920 metric tons of cocaine, a US government report earlier this year said. The figures come as new conservative Colombian President Ivan Duque prepares to attack the drug trade, likely including aerial fumigation of crops with glyphosate. "Our goal in the next four years is to have concrete results," he said Wednesday. "So we can at least eradicate more than 70 percent of what we have today."

Chronicle AM: Utah MedMJ Poll, OK Sentencing Report, Colombia Pot Crackdown, More... (9/7/18)

A new Utah poll has the medical marijuana initiative still doing well, Los Angeles cracks down on illicit pot shops, the US and Ecuador renew cooperation in anti-drug air operations, Bolivia's Evo faces problems, and more.

Bolivian President Evo Morales is getting opposition from a group that should constitute his base: coca farmers. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Los Angeles Arrests More Than 500 in Crackdown on Illicit Pot Shops. A crackdown on unlicensed marijuana businesses in the city has ended with more than 500 people arrested on misdemeanor charges, the city attorney's office said. The charges come in 120 separate criminal cases filed in connection with 105 unlicensed businesses. The defendants are charged with unlicensed commercial cannabis activity within the city, which carries a potential sentence of six months in jail and $1,000 in fines. There are 165 licensed pot shops and delivery services in the city, but many shops persist in selling without a license.

Medical Marijuana

New Utah Poll Shows Continuing Support for Medical Marijuana Initiative. Despite the Church of Latter Day Saints coming out against the Proposition 2 medical marijuana initiative, support for the measure remains strong, a new poll finds. The poll had 64% either "somewhat" or "strongly" in support of the measure.

Foreign Policy

Ecuador, US to Resume Anti-Drug Air Operations. Ecuador said Thursday it is resuming anti-drug air operations with the US a decade after throwing out the US from the Manta air base. Then President Rafael Correa canceled the cooperation in 2009, saying the US military presence threatened national sovereignty, but current President Lenin Cerna, who is friendlier to the US, has tightened ties with the US.

Sentencing

Oklahoma Could Cut Prison Population in Half, Report Says. A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union's Campaign for Smart Justice and the nonpartisan policy organization the Urban Institute finds that Oklahoma has surpassed Louisiana in having the most prisoners per capita, but that the state can take measures to reduce the prison population. Those include ending mandatory minimum sentencing, shifting more discretionary power in sentencing to judges, but the report said the move that would have the most dramatic impact on population would be to focus on drug sentences. The report recommended slashing the time served for drug distribution by 60%, from an average of 3.3 years to 1.3 years. That move alone would create a 22.5% drop in the prison population by 2025, the report said.

International

Bolivian Coca Farmers Demonstrate Against Their Former Coca Grower President. Thousands of coca growers took to the streets of La Paz on Wednesday in opposition to the government of President Evo Morales, himself a former coca grower and union leader. The protestors say the government's coca eradication efforts have hurt their livelihoods and led to the death of at least two of the members.

Colombian Riot Police Break Up Bogota Marijuana "Smoke-a-Thon". Riot police in Bogota on Thursday broke up a "smoke-a-thon" defending the use of marijuana. The demonstration was called to protest President Ivan Duque's moves to tighten the country's drug laws, which allow people to possess small amounts of marijuana. Duque recently issued a decree allowing police to seize any drug consumed in public. The Bogota demonstration was quickly dispersed, with at least a half-dozen people arrested as clashes broke out.

Nigerian Presidential Candidate Wants to Make Country Marijuana Export Giant. Omoyele Sowore, a publisher and presidential hopeful in Nigeria says he will make the country a marijuana exporting hub if elected as president. Sowore said many other countries are making billions from the plant, while people in Nigeria are being jailed for it. "Some of the best weeds in the world are grown in Ekiti state. I'm very serious. People are making billions out of that particular plant that is very potent in Nigeria. We should be focusing on it. We have to start taking care of our weed (Igbo), such that we can also contribute to the GDP of the world," he said. "Our NDLEA (National Drug Law Enforcement Agency) should get the notice, memo in advance that Nigeria will be exporting weed to cure cancer in other parts of the world. Instead of chasing after people who are growing weed whereas we are not chasing after our politicians who are smoking cocaine in their houses."

Chronicle AM: NJ Firm Can Drug Test MedMJ Patient, Egypt Bans "Synthetic Hashish," More... (8/17/18)

A federal judge sides with a New Jersey company against a medical marijuana-using worker, Egypt bans "synthetic hashish," a Mexican state advances a bill to decriminalize opium production, and more.

Bolivian President Evo Morales says he wants to return to coca farming, but the people demand him. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Business Can Drug Test Medical Marijuana Patient, Federal Court Rules. A federal district court judge has ruled that a New Jersey business does not have to waive its requirement for mandatory drug testing to accommodate a worker who uses medical marijuana. The worker had sued the company after it wouldn't allow him to return to work unless he submitted to drug testing. "New Jersey law does not require private employers to waive drug tests for users of medical marijuana," Judge Robert Kugler wrote in his decision. He also noted that "unless expressly provided for by statute, most courts have concluded that the decriminalization of medical marijuana does not shield employees from adverse employment actions."

International

Bolivia President Says He Wants to Return to Coca Farming, But Country Wants Him. President Evo Morales said Thursday he will seek a fourth term in office, citing broad popular support. "The people ask me to return, I do not want to... I want to return to my region to harvest coca, that's the great desire I have, but it is not easy to reject it when the people push you," Morales said. Morales has led the country since 2006, during which period poverty levels have fallen by 3.5%.

Egypt "Synthetic Hashish" Ban. The Health Ministry this week officially banned six forms of "synthetic hashish," or synthetic cannabinoids. The ministry said the ban applied to six "extremely addictive" substances, but it did not provide the technical names for the banned substances.

Mexican State Moving to Legalize Opium Production for Pharmaceutical Purposes. A legislative committee in the state of Guerrero, Mexico's opium production epicenter, has approved a draft bill to decriminalize the production and sale of opium for pharmaceutical purposes. If the bill is approved by the state legislature, it would then be sent to the federal congress for approval. The law is designed to reduce the impact of federal law enforcement on local producers, but critics worry such a law could be used fraudulently by drug cartels supplying heroin to the US.

Chronicle AM: ND MJ Init Makes November Ballot, Colombia to Forcibly Uproot Coca, More... (8/13/18)

North Dakota becomes the second state (after Michigan) to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative this year, Denver's mayor comes around on legal pot, the UN will review marijuana's status under international law, and more.

Denver's mayor opposed marijuana legalization, but now has seen the light. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. The secretary of state's office announced Monday organizers of a marijuana legalization initiative had handed in enough valid voter signatures to qualify their measure for the November ballot. That makes North Dakota the second state to qualify a legalization initiative for November: Michigan activists did so earlier this year.

Denver Mayor Changes Tune on Legalization. Mayor Michael Hancock campaigned against the state's successful 2012 legalization initiative, but after five years of legal weed, he's singing a different tune. Prompted by a recent report that touted the city's accomplishments with legal marijuana, Hancock now says the city's approach "is working." He noted that the city was the first large city in the country to take on the "daunting challenge" of legalization, "and we are having success."

International

UN Launches First-Ever Full Review Of Marijuana's Status Under International Law. The World Health Organization's (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) will launch a first-ever in-depth review of whether marijuana is properly scheduled under international drug control treaties. The group held a "pre-review" earlier this year. "A pre-review is the first step of the ECDD's assessment process, where it is determined whether there is enough robust scientific information to proceed to the next step, called a critical review. This initial evaluation is also an opportunity to identify gaps in the available scientific data. A critical review is carried out when there is sufficient scientific evidence to allow the ECDD to make an informed recommendation that the substance be placed under international control, or if its level of control should be changed."

Canada's British Columbia Begins Drug Testing in Provincial Cities. Responding to a large number of opioid overdose deaths in the province, BC Interior Health has begun funding full-time drug testing services in seven cities in the province. The program provides fentanyl testing strips to local service providers.

Colombia's Defense Minister Says Government Will Forcibly Eradicate Coca Crops. Defense Minister Guillermo Botero said last Friday the government has decided to forcibly eradicate coca crops in the country. Former President Juan Manuel Santos had ended forced eradication in a bid to reduce associated violence, but new President Ivan Duque will go ahead despite the potential for violence in a move that is sure to please the United States.

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