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Chronicle AM: Colombia's New President Vows Drug Crackdown, ND Pot Init Lives, More... (8/8/18)

The Northern Mariana Islands could be the first US territory to legalize weed, a North Dakota legalization initiative looks like it will probably make the ballot, Colombia's new president vows to resort to old prohibitionist drug war policies, and more.

Newly installed Colombian President Ivan Duque vows a drug crackdown. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization Bill Passes Northern Mariana Islands House. The Northern Marianas Islands House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 20-178, on an 18-1-1 vote. The bill legalizes the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, but also for adult use. People can possess up to an ounce and grow a limited number of plants, and the bill creates a regime for legal, regulated, and taxed production and sales. It now goes before the territory's Senate. If it passes, the Northern Marianas would be the first US territory to legalize marijuana.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Likely to Make Ballot, State Officials Say. State election officials have told Marijuana Moment that the organizers of a marijuana legalization initiative have very likely come up with enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The group, LegalizeND, submitted about 18,700 raw signatures; it needs 13,452 valid voter signatures to qualify. The elections office is currently finishing the signature verification process and will announce on August 13 whether the measure qualified.

Congressional Bar on DC Regulated Sales Leading to Distribution Arrest Surge, Report Finds. More than 900 people were arrested for marijuana offenses in the nation's capital last year, a jump of 37% over 2016 figures, according to new data from the DC Metro Police. Pot arrests bottomed out at 323 in 2015, the first full year of legalization. Prior to legalization, the vast majority of arrests were for possession, but since then, distribution and possession with intent to distribute account for the majority of pot arrests. Analysts pointed to the congressional bar against the District allowing legal, regulated sales as being behind both the overall jump in arrests and the increasing percentage of sales and possession with intent arrests.

International

Colombia's New President Takes Office, Vows Drug Crackdown. Ivan Duque, a conservative ally of former President Alvaro Uribe, was installed as president Tuesday. He immediately pointed to the expansion of coca production, corruption, and the violence of drug trafficking groups as problems he will address. "The time has come for us to unite to confront all illegalities," including drug trafficking and production, he said. "We will be effective in the eradication and substitution of illegal crops, accompanied by productive opportunities" for farmers and a crackdown on drug traffickers, Duque promised. "Building peace, Colombians, means to defeat the drug cartels," he said.

Chronicle AM: Sessions Concedes State Can Make Own MJ Laws, Mexico Opium, More... (7/27/18)

The US attorney general admits states can make their own pot laws, a new report finds racial disparities in marijuana enforcement in the New York suburbs, a Mexican governor calls for legal opium production, and more.

Jeff Sessions acknowledges states' rights even on marijuana policy. (Senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Sessions Acknowledges States Can Set Own Marijuana Laws. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, while staunchly sticking up for federal marijuana prohibition, acknowledged Thursday that states can set their own pot laws. Responding to a reporter's question in Boston, he said the Justice Department will continue enforcing federal marijuana laws, but added: "Personally, my view is that the American republic will not be better if there are marijuana sales on every street corner, but states have a right to set their own laws and will do so, and we will follow the federal law," he said.

Report Finds Racial Disparities in Suburban NYC Pot Arrests. A report from the WESPAC Foundation, Westchester Coalition for Police Reform, and the Drug Policy Alliance released Thursday finds that marijuana prohibition in suburban Westchester County has largely targeted people of color and that the harms of prohibition have been visited almost entirely on them. While black people account for only 14% of the county's population, they made up more than half (52%) off all pot possession busts. Latinos were similarly arrested for pot possession at disproportionate rates. The report also noted the targeting of youth. Some 58% of people arrested for pot possession were 25 or younger.

International

UN Chief Warns Colombia It Must Consolidate Peace. In a report to the UN Security Council released Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the Colombian government must address major challenges and consolidate peace. He said there is no greater challenge than bringing development, security, and the rule of law to "vast expanses of the country that continue to be prey to violence" and that the challenges to peace included continued violence in conflict zones. "The proliferation of illegal groups and the growth of the coca economy, as well as frustration and fears among former combatants and among communities who feel bypassed by the peace process, leave no doubt as to the magnitude of the challenges that await the new government, Colombian institutions and civil society alike," he said.

Governor of Mexico's Guerrero Wants Opium Production Legalized. Hector Astudillo, governor of the south-central state of Guerrero, Mexico's leading opium production region, said he supports the incoming government's plan to explore regulating opium production for pharmaceutical use. "It's time," Astudillo told Mexican radio. "I'm delighted that a different way of dealing with the poppy is finally going to be explored." Astudillo himself had floated the same idea back in 2016. "To curb the violence, we must look for another approach to poppy cultivation, not only in Guerrero but in the golden triangle," he said, referring to the region in the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and Durango where large quantities of marijuana and poppies are grown. "Because it's such an important ingredient for medicine, the poppy could be used for medical purposes, as is being done in other countries," Astudillo added.

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

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

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

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

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Harm Reduction

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Foreign Policy

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

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

International

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: RI Senate OKs Life Sentence for ODs Bill, Guatemala's First Coca Crop, More... (5/30/18)

A bill that would mandate life sentences for selling drugs involved in fatal overdoses is moving in Rhode Island, a California US attorney says he's too busy with the black market to go after legal marijuana, another Utah poll has a medical marijuana initiative winning, Guatemala gets its first coca crop and more.

Cocaine traffickers are beginning to move coca production from South America to Central America. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

California US Attorney Says Too Much Black Market Work to Focus on Legal Market. Sacramento-based McGregor Scott, US Attorney for the Northeastern District of California, said Tuesday there is so much marijuana being grown illegally on federal lands and trafficked to other states that he doesn't have the resources to go after state-legal marijuana operations. Scott said he would focus on interstate trafficking, organized crime, and damage to public lands.

New Jersey Legalization Advocate Wants to Tie Legalization, Medical Marijuana. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) is working on a plan to combine a marijuana legalization push with a bid to expand medical marijuana, but some lawmakers are warning the effort could blow up chances for either to pass this year. The medical marijuana expansion plan has broad support; the move to legalize marijuana is much more contentious.

Northern Marianas Legalization Bill Advances. The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) has taken another step toward legalizing marijuana. The House Committee on Judiciary and Government Operations has unanimously approved a bill that would allow adults to grow, possess, and consume marijuana and set up a system of taxed and regulated sales and production. The bill has already passed the Senate and now awaits a House floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Yet Another Utah Poll Has Medical Marijuana Initiative Winning. A new poll from Dan Jones & Associates finds that nearly three out of four Utah residents support the Utah Patients Coalition medical marijuana initiative. The poll had 72% either "strongly" or "somewhat" in support, with 25% opposed, and only 2% undecided. While the LDS Church has come out against the measure, even 59% of self-described very active Mormons say they are for it.

Sentencing

Rhode Island Senate Approves Bill Allowing Life Sentences in Overdose Deaths. The state Senate on Tuesday approved Senate Bill 2279A, which allows prison sentences of up to life for those convicted of selling, delivering, or distributing an illegal drug that results in a fatal overdose. The bill passed 22-11 over the objections of treatment professionals, mental health advocates, and civil liberties organizations, which argued that tougher sentences will only make it harder to fight drug overdoses. "We know, based on decades of criminal justice based drug policy, that harsher penalties do not decrease drug using activity. So, this bill's disturbing message will not decrease drug use, nor drug trafficking -- the economics ensure this -- but it will further marginalize people who use drugs and increase their fears," a joint letter to the Senate said. "Use of a public health approach, not lengthy criminal sentences for users and small-time dealers, is essential for our state's ability to continue to make headway in this crisis." The bill now goes to the House.

International

Guatemalan Authorities Bust First Coca Farm. The National Civil Police announced over the weekend that they had found and destroyed a 2 ½ plot of coca plants sown between coffee plants, the first discovery of coca cultivation in the country. The crops were found in a remote area of Alta Verapaz department. Honduras recently saw its first and second discovery of coca plantings, too, suggesting that traffickers are attempting to cut risk and transport costs by planting the cocaine-producing crop nearer to US markets.

Chronicle AM: NM Marijuana Poll, House Passes Limited Prison Reform Bill, More... (5/23/18)

A solid majority of New Mexicans support marijuana legalization, the House passes a limited prison -- but not sentencing -- reform bill, an Open Society Foundations report calls for increased opportunities for legal coca sales in Colombia, and more.

Colombian coca grower. A new report says more legal markets for the crop could reduce violence. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A poll from Research & Polling Inc. conducted in March but not released until yesterday has support for marijuana legalization at 63%. Respondents were asked if they would support a bill to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana. Support was up 2% over a similar poll in 2016.

Medical Marijuana

West Virginia Bid for Special Session to Address Marijuana Banking Issues Fizzles. The legislature concluded its may interim meetings Tuesday without securing enough signatures in the House of Delegates to force a special session to address marijuana banking issues. The legislature needed three-fifths of members in both the Senate and the House to force a special session. Enough senators signed on to meet that bar, but not enough delegates did.

Prison Reform

House Passes Prison Reform Bill Backed By Trump. The House easily passed a bipartisan prison reform bill Tuesday, but it faces a murky future in the Senate. House Resolution 5682 aims to reduce recidivism by providing training programs for prisoners. Powerful senators, including Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), however, are holding out for a more substantive bill that includes not just prison reforms, but also sentencing reforms. "For that deal to pass the Senate, it must include sentencing reform. At least as of now, that's something Sen. Durbin and I still are sticking together on," Grassley said at a Tuesday event on criminal justice reform.

International

Open Society Report Calls for Boosting Colombia's Legal Coca Market to Reduce Violence. A new report from Open Society Foundations calls on Colombia to move away from traditional drug eradication measures that have not proven successful and instead create policies that encourage coca farmers to stay out of the black market. The report says both international and Colombian law allow coca to be grown for legal purposes, and Colombia should move to increase that prospect.

Chronicle AM: NYC Mayor Endorses SIFs, CO Cannabis Tasting Room Bill Passes, More... (5/4/18)

Colorado could become the first state with a marijuana social consumption law, a new poll suggests New Yorkers are ready to free the weed, New York City's mayor gets behind safer injection facilities, a leading Colombian presidential contender trashes the drug war, and more.

Vancouver's InSite safe injection site. Could New York City be next? (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Marijuana "Tasting Rooms" Bill Goes to Governor. A groundbreaking bill that would allow customers at pot shops to consume small amounts of marijuana through edibles or vaping has passed out of the legislature and is now at the desk of Gov. John Hickenlooper (D). The measure, House Bill 1258, would, if signed into law, make Colorado the first state to adopt some sort of social consumption provision for marijuana.

New York Poll Shows Strong Support for Legalization. A Quinnipiac poll released Thursday has support for legalization among New Yorkers at 63%. That's the highest ever for Quinnipiac in the state, and it's up seven percentage points from a February Siena College Research Institute poll that had support at 56%.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana House Kills Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The House on Thursday voted down House Bill 826, which would have allowed any pharmacist in the state to open a medical marijuana dispensary. Instead, the state will maintain the status quo, which allows only nine pharmacies in the state to dispense medical marijuana.

New Hampshire Senate Delays Bill to Allow Patients to Grow Their Own. The Senate on Thursday refused to pass a bill that would allow medical marijuana patients to grow their own plants. Instead, the body voted to send House Bill 1476 to interim study, effectively killing it for the session.

Harm Reduction

New York City Mayor Endorses Safer Injection Facilities. Bowing to growing pressure from community activists and public health specialists, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday endorsed a plan to set up at least four safe injection site pilot projects in the city after a year's worth of consultations with stakeholders. The nation's largest city now joins Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle in racing to be the first to open a permitted safe injection site in the US.

International

Leading Colombian Presidential Candidate Calls for End to Drug War. Gustavo Petro, the former mayor of Bogotá and one of the leading contenders in presidential elections set for the end of this month, has denounced Colombia's militarized drug war and its subservience to US drug war interests. "The militaristic approach to drugs has been effective," he said on May Day, adding that the country should instead implement "social policies in the regions where drugs are cultivated and help people escape the mafia."

Chronicle AM: Colombia Mulls Coca-Spraying Drones, Senate Opioids Bill Advances, More... (4/25/18)

President Trump nominates a new drug czar, a Senate opioid bill moves, Colombia ponders using drones to eradicate coca crops, and more.

This Colombian peasant may have to start watching out for overhead drones. (dea.gov)
Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Opioid Bill Passes Out of Committee. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday approved Senate Bill 2680, the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. The bill, which includes over 40 proposals related to ways to combat the opioid epidemic, was written after seven committee hearings on the crisis with input from various agencies and state officials. Other Senate and House committees are hearing other bills related to the opioid crisis.

Drug Policy

White House Nominates James W. Carroll, Jr. for Drug Czar Post. President Trump on Monday announced that he intends to nominate James W. Carroll, Jr., to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Even though he has no drug policy experience, he is already the acting director of ONDCP. A lawyer by training, Carroll served as special counsel to President George W. Bush, general counsel for Ford Motor Company, and an assistant to President Trump, among other positions.

Sentencing

California Bills Would Fix Overuse of Sentencing Enhancements. State Sens. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) have filed a pair of bills, Senate Bill 1392 and Senate Bill 1393, that aim to reduce the prison population by reforming the use of sentencing enhancements. Among the most common are a one-year enhancement for each prior prison or county jail felony prison term and a five-year enhancement for having a previous felony when convicted of a serious felony. More than 35,000 prisoners have had sentences lengthened under these laws. SB1392 proposes eliminating the one-year sentence enhancement for prior jail terms. SB1393 proposes returning judicial discretion over striking a prior conviction for a serious felony for the purposes of the five-year sentencing enhancement.

International

Colombia Ponders Using Drones for Aerial Coca Crop Eradication. Colombian police could start using drones to combat a five-year surge in coca production that has damaged relations with the US. Colombian anti-drug police have contracted with a local company to test drones for spraying herbicides on coca fields, according to state contracting documents.

Chronicle AM: DEA Seized $3.2 Billion from People Never Charged With a Crime, More... (4/11/18)

Maine moves a step closer to implementing legal pot sales, the Mormon Church takes a stand against a medical marijuana initiative, the DEA has seized tons of money from people it never charged with a crime, and more.

Seized money from a drug investigation. The DEA has seized $4 billion in the past decade, most of it with no criminal charges.
Marijuana Policy

Maine House Approves New Compromise on Legal Pot Sales. The House voted Tuesday to approve a measure designed to get the state's legal pot sales system up and running, and it did so with a veto-proof majority. Under the compromise legislation, the number of plants that individuals could grow at home would drop from six to three, there would be a 10% sales tax on legal weed, and there would be a $335 per pound tax imposed on growing facilities. The bill is expected to be on the Senate calendar today. An earlier effort to legislate implementation of the voter-approved 2016 law was vetoed by Gov. Paul Le Page.

Tennessee Poll Has Surprising Support for Marijuana. More than eight out of 10 Tennesseans believe marijuana should be legal in some form, a new Middle Tennessee State University poll finds. Some 44% said marijuana should be legal for medicinal use only, while another 37% said it should be legal for personal use. A medical marijuana bill was withdrawn earlier this month after its sponsor said it lacked the support to pass in the legislature.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Officially Opposed by Mormon Church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' First Presidency issued a statement Tuesday opposing the medical marijuana initiative, which is still in the signature gathering phase: "We commend the Utah Medical Association for its statement of March 30, 2018, cautioning that the proposed Utah marijuana initiative would compromise the health and safety of Utah communities. We respect the wise counsel of the medical doctors of Utah," the statement reads. "The public interest is best served when all new drugs designed to relieve suffering and illness, and the procedures by which they are made available to the public, undergo the scrutiny of medical scientists and official approval bodies."

Asset Forfeiture

DEA Has Taken More Than $3 Billion from People Never Charged With a Crime. A March report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General finds that the DEA has seized more than $4 billion from drug suspects since 2007 --but that four out of five of the seizures were done administratively and did not lead to either civil or criminal charges. That means the DEA seized about $3.2 billion from people never charged with a crime. The report also scolded DEA, noting that it "does not collect or evaluate the data necessary to know whether its seizures and forfeitures are effective, or the extent to which seizures present potential risks to civil liberties." Also, the report warned: "When seizure and administrative forfeitures do not ultimately advance an investigation or prosecution, law enforcement creates the appearance, and risks the reality, that it is more interested in seizing and forfeiting cash than advancing an investigation or prosecution."

International

Colombia Arrests FARC Peace Negotiator on Drug Charges. Colombian federal police agents arrested one of the former rebel group's peace negotiators on Monday, sparking an angry reaction from the FARC. Seuxis Paucis Hernández Solarte, alias "Jesús Santrich," and three others face extradition to the U.S. on charges they conspired to import cocaine. The FARC, which has now transformed itself into a political party -- the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (FARC, in its Spanish acronym) -- called the arrest "the worst moment" of the peace process. "This is a very delicate and dangerous situation. This, yet again, underscores what we have been complaining about in relation to the legal insecurity and lack of guarantees that we have as members of the FARC political party," former FARC commander Victoria Sandino said in a statement. "This is sabotage and an obstacle for those that have committed wholeheartedly to this process, starting with one of the main negotiators and signatory of the peace accord."

Hondurans Seize Second Coca Plantation, Raising Fears Cocaine Production is Shifting North. Last weekend, Honduran police seized a 70 acre coca plantation, the second one found in the country. Honduran authorities speculated that drug trafficking groups are experimenting with growing there in order to save on smuggling costs from South America. The country has long been a key transit point for cocaine headed north; now it could become a producer, too.

Drug War Issues

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