Opium Production

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Chronicle AM: NFL Players Challenge Trump on Sentencing, First MA MJ License, More... (6/22/18)

NFL players respond to a challenge from President Trump with one of their own, Massachusetts gets its first licensed marijuana cultivator, a US watchdog notes that Afghan opium production is at record highs despite the billions we've spent to suppress it, and more.

The US has spent billions to suppress the Afghan opium crop. It hasn't worked, a watchdog says. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Approves First Provisional Marijuana Growing License. A year and a half after voters legalized marijuana in the Bay State, the Cannabis Control Commission has awarded its first provisional license to a marijuana grower. Sira Naturals of Milford has been awarded a Tier 3 cultivation license, which means it can grow marijuana on up to 20,000 square feet of its cultivation facility. Sales are supposed to begin on July 1, but the state has yet to license any retailers.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Supreme Court Removes Cultivator License Roadblock. The state Supreme Court Thursday threw out a ruling that effectively blocked the state's five approved medical marijuana cultivators from receiving licenses. The ruling ends a series of legal challenges to the awarding process from applicants who did not receive licenses and removes an injunction blocking the state from moving forward with licensing.

Sentencing and Pardons

NFL Players Ask Trump to Change Excessive Sentences for Nonviolent Drug Offenders. A group of NFL players organized as the Players Coalition wrote a New York Times op-ed challenging President Trump to pardon more nonviolent drug offenders. They said they were pleased by Trump's pardon of Alice Marie Johnson, who had served 20 years of a life sentence for a first-time drug conviction, but noted that "there are a lot of people out there like Ms. Johnson that should be pardoned that don't know a celebrity or an NFL player." The players said that while Trump had challenged them to come up with more names for pardons, that's not the solution: "A handful of pardons will not address the sort of systemic injustice that NFL players have been protesting," the letter to the New York Times read. "These are problems that our government has created, many of which occur at the local level. If President Trump thinks he can end these injustices if we deliver him a few names, he hasn't been listening to us."

Foreign Policy

Afghan Opium Production at Record Levels Despite Nearly $9 Billion in US Anti-Drug Efforts, Watchdog Finds "There's more opium being grown now than when we started, there's more heroin being produced than when we started, there's more heroin being exported, there are more profits from the heroin going to the Taliban and to the other terrorist groups than when we started," said John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). "If you apply all of the tests, we failed." The latest SIGAR report finds that opium production has topped 9,000 metric tons this year. The US has spent $8.7 billion trying to suppress the crop since it invaded in late 2001.

Chronicle AM: More Bangladeshi Drug War Killings, Canada Legalization Bill Advances, More... (5/29/18)

California lawmakers forego an opportunity to cut legal pot taxes, Pennsylvania's third largest city decriminalizes marijuana possession, the head of a UN agency calls on Latin America to consider drug legalization, Bangladeshi drug war killings mount, and more.

Canada's legalization bill heads for a final Senate vote by June 7. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill to Lower Pot Taxes Voted Down. Even though legal marijuana sales and tax revenues are much lower than anticipated, the legislature has passed on an opportunity to entice people away from the black market by cutting legal marijuana taxes, which can reach 50% of the purchase price when state and local taxes are included. A bill that would have lowered the state excise tax to 11% and suspended grower taxes for three years, Assembly Bill 3157, was defeated in the Assembly Appropriations Committee last Friday, but sponsor Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) said he hoped it could still be revived this year.

Colorado Grew 500 Tons of Legal Marijuana Last Year. Legal marijuana growers produced nearly 500 tons of pot last year, the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division reported last Friday. That turned into 411,000 pounds of purchased buds and more than 11 million edibles sold. The trend of production increasing each year since legalization continues.

Allentown, Pennsylvania, Decriminalizes. Pennsylvania's third largest city has now decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Allentown Mayor Ray O'Connell last Friday signed into law a measure passed 4-3 by the city council that makes possession of 30 grams or less a summary offense with a fine as low as $25.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Judge Rules Patients Can Smoke Medical Marijuana. An Orlando circuit court judge ruled last Friday that the state legislature's ban on smoking medical marijuana is unconstitutional. State voters had approved medical marijuana in 2016 -- without any ban on smoking.

Florida Governor Immediately Appeals Ruling That Patients Can Smoke Their Medicine. The ruling that patients can smoke their medicine is on hold after Gov. Rick Scott (R) immediately appealed the Orlando judge's ruling.

International

Head of UN Agency Says Latin America Must Consider Legalizing Drugs. Alicia Barcena, head of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), told a weekend forum in Paris that Latin America must seriously ponder drug legalization to reduce the human costs of drug prohibition. "I'm going to be very provocative. Who would drug legalization be good for? Latin America and the Caribbean, for God's sake. Because the illegality is what's killing people," she said. "It's time to seriously consider legalizing drugs."

Canadian Senate Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Senate Social Affairs Committee has approved the C-45 marijuana legalization bill with 40 amendments (most of them merely technical), including one that would give provincial governments the ability to ban homegrown marijuana. The committee's amended version of the bill will now go back to the Senate as a whole, which will decide whether to accept or reject the amendments or propose additional changes. The Senate has agreed to hold a final vote by June 7, which would allow the Trudeau government to meet its promise of having legal marijuana up and running by the end of summer.

Taliban Commander Orders Drug Labs Moved Out of Urban Areas to Avoid Civilian Casualties from American Air Strikes. The Taliban's shadow governor of opium-producing Helmand province has ordered drug labs moved out of populated areas because American air strikes are killing a rising number of civilians. Mullah Manan said that "due to one factory hundreds of the public are at risk from bombings and missiles" and called for facilities to shift to "mountains and valley sides" instead. Under looser rules of engagement under the Trump administration, bombing raids have nearly tripled in the first three months of this year compared with 2017.

Bangladesh's Murderous Anti-Drug Campaign Continues. Amid rising fears of a Philippines-style war on drugs, the latest reports are now that the toll has risen to 86 killed and more than 7,000 arrested since the government announced a new anti-drug offensive earlier this month. Human Rights Watch is speaking out, with Meenakshi Ganguly, the group's South Asia director warning that the government "should heed concerns and allegations by families and activists that several of these deaths could be extrajudicial killings."

Four Ways Fentanyl Could Radically Disrupt the Global Drug Trade

The synthetic opioid fentanyl isn't just killing American drug users by the thousands. Its emergence also signals a shift in the decades-old contours of the global drug trade, with ramifications not only for traditional drug-producing countries and drug trafficking networks but also for US foreign policy.

Black market fentanyl is not just wreaking havoc on the streets of American cities. (Creative Commons)
Synthesized from chemicals -- not from papaver somniferum, the opium poppy -- fentanyl is about 50 times stronger than heroin and is severely implicated in the country's drug overdose crisis, accounting for almost 20,000 deaths in 2016.

Illicit fentanyl is typically mixed with other opiates, such as heroin, resulting in much stronger doses of opioids than users expect, thus leading to opioid overdoses. But it is also increasingly also showing up in non-opiate drugs, resulting in fentanyl overdose deaths among unsuspecting methamphetamine and cocaine users.

But the havoc super-potent fentanyl is wreaking among drug users pales in comparison with the dramatic changes it could prompt in the global illicit drug production industry. As academic researchers Vanda Felbab-Brown, Jonathan Caulkins, and Keith Humphreys write in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, fentanyl's rise has the potential to cause disruption and innovation in black markets.

Here are four ways fentanyl alters the illegal drug production and distribution status quo:

1. It doesn't require an agricultural base. Virtually all of the other opioids on the black market, from heroin to morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone, require land to grow poppies on. And they require land that is outside cdthe effective control of the state. Non-state actors who can control such areas, whether it's the Taliban in Afghanistan or the drug cartels in southern and western Mexico, reap the profits and power of that control. With the ascent of lab-produced fentanyl made out of chemicals, traditional opiate producers should see their profits and their influence undermined.

2. It doesn't require a large workforce. Traditional opium production requires a large seasonal workforce of people to plant and tend the poppies, score the pods and scrape off the leaking opium, and then process and package the raw opium. Other workers will get jobs processing raw opium into heroin. All of those jobs bring money into the hands of poor agricultural families and political capital to the traffickers, whether it's the Taliban in Afghanistan or the cartels in Mexico. With fewer job opportunities to offer up, the traffickers lose clout.

3. It doesn't require an elaborate smuggling infrastructure. Because fentanyl is so potent, small amounts of the drug can contain huge numbers of doses, and that means it doesn't require transportation networks of trucks, planes, and boats to get an agricultural crop from the valleys of Afghanistan or the mountains of Mexico to consumers in the US Fentanyl is so potent, medicinal doses are measured in micrograms, and packages of it worth hundreds of thousands of dollars can fit inside a Priority Mail envelope. With smuggling fentanyl as easy as dropping a package in the mail, international drug smuggling organizations now have competition they never had before.

4. All of this can change the dynamics of US foreign policy. If plant-based opiates lose market share to synthetics in the future, this can weaken both insurgencies (Afghanistan) and criminal networks (Mexico). Ever since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, drug warriors have been constrained in their efforts to go after the Afghan opium crops because of fears it would drive poppy-dependent peasants into the hands of the Taliban. If opium production becomes relatively less important vis-à-vis fentanyl production, that constraint on an aggressive US response to Afghan opium production is weakened. Similarly, in Mexico, to the degree that fentanyl displaces peasants and processors and weakens the link between drug cartels and rural populations, it increases the ability of the Mexican government and its American backers to crack down even harder on the cartels.

Under drug prohibition, there is a strong impetus to come up with more pure, more potent, and more compact products. Fentanyl is the ultimate expression of that imperative, and its arrival is changing the contours of the global drug industry. Who knows how it will play out?

Chronicle AM: De Blasio Tells NYPD to Stop Pot Arrests, Aghan Opium Bumper Crop, More... (5/22/18)

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to see an end to public pot smoking arrests, Utah medical marijuana supporters are fending off a court challenge, the "Philippine disease" appears to be spreading to Bangladesh, Afganistan sees a bumper poppy crop, and more.

Afghanistan had its largest opium poppy crop ever last year, the UNODC reports. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Opposition Marijuana Poll Has Initiative in Lead, But Under 50%. A new poll commissioned by opponents of Michigan's marijuana legalization initiative had it with 48% support, 11% undecided, and 42% opposed. After pollsters produced arguments in favor of the initiative, support stayed at 48%, but opposition dropped to 36%. After pollsters introduced arguments against the initiative, support actually jumped one point to 49%.

New York Mayor Tells Cops To Stop Arresting People for Public Marijuana Use. Over the weekend, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) told the NYPD to just issue summonses for public pot smoking instead of making arrests. The NYPD already has a working group that has begun to evaluate its marijuana enforcement policies and will present recommendations within 30 days. Now the mayor has made it clear that an end to arrests for public pot smoking is one of the changes he wants.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Supporters Fight Back in Court. Supporters of the medical marijuana initiative showed up in court Monday to intervene in a lawsuit that seeks to prevent the initiative from going before the voters in November. The Utah Patients Coalition is seeking to block a lawsuit from Drug Safe Utah that argues state officials were not legally allowed to approve the initiative.

West Virginia Lawmakers Seek Special Session for Medical Marijuana Financing. Some state lawmakers are seeking to force Gov. Jim Justice (D) to call a legislative special session to address financial problems with the state's medical marijuana law. A special session that ended Monday failed to address the issue. For another special session to be called, at least three-fifths of each chamber must sign on. That figure has been met in the Senate, but not yet in the House.

International

UN Says Afghan Opium Poppy Production Increased Sharply Last Year. Opium poppy production expanded sharply in Afghanistan last year, increasing from roughly 500,000 acres in 2016 to more than 700,000 acres last year. That's an all-time high, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said. UNODC said no single factor explained the increase but cited "political instability, lack of government control, and security" as main drivers.

Bangladeshi Opposition Warns of Police Killings of Drug Suspects. The country's leading opposition party, the BNP, on Monday accused the government of "indulging in extrajudicial killings" in the pursuit of a country-wide anti-drug drive. "A fresh drive to control narcotics has begun," BNP General Secretary Mirza Fakrul Islam Almagir said. "We also want the country to be free from drug abuse and those involved in it to be brought to justice. But it does not mean people should be killed unlawfully without trial." Almagir added that the government was now killing drug suspects in just the same way it had unlawfully killed opposition leaders and activists. Almagir also suggested the ruling Awami League should clean up its own house first.

Chronicle AM: NYC Marijuana Arrest Disparities Continue, Drug Protests Shake Tbilisi, More ... (5/14/18)

New York City has yet to escape from racially disproportionate marijuana arrests, the Mormon Church picks a fight with medical marijuana, nursing homes can't discriminate against people taking addiction medications, protests rock the capital of Georgia after a massive weekend drug bust, and more.

NYPD seems to think marijuana users only come in the colors black and brown. (IRIN)
Marijuana Policy

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Campaign Getting Underway. A Tulsa-based group calling itself Green the Vote is now collecting signatures for a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. Campaigners will need nearly 124,000 valid voter signatures by September 8 to qualify for the November ballot. A medical marijuana initiative is already set to go before the voters next month.

New York City Pot Bust Racial Disparities Aren't Going Away. A major investigation by the New York Times has found continued racial disparities in marijuana enforcement and arrests in every neighborhood in the City. "Across the city, black people were arrested on low-level marijuana charges at eight times the rate of white, non-Hispanic people over the past three years. Hispanic people were arrested at five times the rate of white people. In Manhattan, the gap is even starker: Black people there were arrested at 15 times the rate of white people."

Medical Marijuana

Mormon Church Ups the Ante in Fight Against Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative. The church last Friday doubled down on its opposition to the medical marijuana initiative set for the November ballot. The church released a seven-page memorandum raising dozens of complaints it says "raises grave concerns about this initiative and the serious adverse consequences that could follow if it were adopted."

Drug Treatment

Justice Department: Nursing Facilities Can't Exclude Patients Using Addiction Medication. The Justice Department has reached a settlement with a skilled nursing facility in which the facility agreed to pay a fine for excluding a patient because the patient was being treated for opioid use disorder with suboxone and agreed not to discriminate in the future. "Our office is committed to protecting the rights of people with disabilities, which includes those in treatment for an Opioid Use Disorder," United States Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said. "As Massachusetts faces this overdose epidemic, now more than ever, individuals in recovery must not face discriminatory barriers to treatment."

International

Taliban Kill Dozens of Afghan Police in Opium Trafficking Areas. In attacks late last week, Taliban fighters attacking Afghan police bases in Farah province, killing more than 30 police. The province, in the west of the country, contains vital opium smuggling routes into neighboring Iran. Opium from Afghanistan's primary opium province, Helmand, moves north into Farah before heading for the Iranian border.

Georgia Sees Mass Protests After Weekend Mass-Arrest Drug Raids. The capital, Tbilisi, was rocked by mass protests all weekend long after interior ministry police raided two popular nightclubs and arrested more than 60 people on drug charges. Protesters were demanding the freedom of those arrested and a liberalization of the country's drug policies, and were only persuaded to stop -- at least until next weekend -- after Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia promised the government would start working on drug reforms today. The protests also saw the emergence of ultra-rightist thugs who came out to counter-demonstrate.

Chronicle AM: MI MJ Poll, Leading MX Pres Contender Says Debate Legalizing Drugs, More... (5/10/18)

Michigan marijuana stories abound, another Democratic presidential contender signs on to the federal legalization bill, Mexico's probable next president says he wants a debate on drug legalization, and more.

It's increasingly looking like Michigan will legalize weed come November.
Marijuana Policy

Kamala Harris Signs On to Cory Booker's Legalization Bill. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), oft mentioned as a potential Democratic presidential contender, is the latest senator to cosponsor Sen. Cory Booker's (D-NJ) marijuana legalization bill, S. 1689. Booker is also a potential Democratic presidential contender, as are two of the other three cosponsors, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The only non-presidential contender cosponsor is Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Michigan Poll Finds Voters Ready to Legalize Marijuana.A new Michigan State University Institute for Public Policy and Social Research poll strongly suggests the marijuana legalization initiative will cruise to victory in November. The poll found 61% saying they want to legalize marijuana, with 34% opposed. Only 5% were undecided. "Marijuana legalization is the only issue with fewer than 15% undecided. Since the marijuana initiative has a large lead with relatively few undecideds, it appears likely that it will pass," said MSU economics professor Charles Ballard, the director of SOSS.

Michigan GOP Gubernatorial Contenders Reject Marijuana Legalization. All of the Republican candidates for the state governorship are united on at least two things: Support for President Trump, and opposition to marijuana legalization. But at least one, Attorney General Bill Schuette, recognized the handwriting on the wall. "But I think citizens of the state will have a chance to vote, and democracy will prevail," he said.

Michigan Senate Panel Votes to Ban Marijuana-Infused Beer and Wine. Trying to get ahead of a potential "disaster," the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee on Wednesday voted unanimously to approve Senate Bill 969, which bans the sale and use of marijuana-infused beer, wine, and spirits. "This is happening in Colorado and should the ballot proposal pass in November, we're going to end up with it here," argued bill sponsor Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Lodge). "It's a recipe for disaster." The bill now goes before the full Senate.

Wisconsin's Milwaukee County Could See Advisory Referendum on Legalizing Marijuana. The Board of Supervisors' Committee on Judiciary, Safety and General Services on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution to put a non-binding advisory referendum on the November ballot. Voters would be asked: "Do you favor allowing adults 21 years of age and older to engage in the personal use of marijuana, while also regulating commercial marijuana-related activities, and imposing a tax on the sale of marijuana?" The full board will take up the resolution at its May 24 meeting.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Senate Approves Adding Qualifying Conditions for Medical Marijuana. The Senate voted 25-9 Wednesday to approve House Bill 579, which adds glaucoma, severe muscle spasms, intractable pain, PTSD, and Parkinson's Disease to the state's list of qualifying conditions for the use of medical marijuana. It also voted 21-10 to approve House Bill 627, which adds autism spectrum disorders to the list. The bills have already passed the House, but must be approved there again after changes were made in the Senate.

International

Mexico's Leading Presidential Candidate Calls for Debate on Drug Legalization. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), the left-leaning front-runner in the country's presidential election, has saiad he is open to debating drug legalization to reduce violence and criminality in the country. "All topics should be analyzed. Health is affected more by alcohol and tobacco than other drugs, and prohibiting these drugs creates more violence. Why not talk about it? And why not -- if it's what's best for the country -- approve it and implement it, listening to everyone's input?" he said,during an event titled "Dialogue for Peace and Justice," organized by several non-governmental organizations. AMLO also mentioned a general strategy to counter violence in the country, including a national peace dialog. "If there's crime, an activity will be done, and they will change it, criminals will do other things and my concern is that, by opening the market to drugs, other kinds of crimes will surge. The best thing would be to address the causes, the structure, reach the bottom of things without forgetting these measures (legalization)."

Mexican Soldiers Killed in Guerrero Gun Battle. Three Mexican Army soldiers were killed and three more wounded in a shootout with suspected drug gang members at a ranch outside Coyuca de Benitez, Guerrero. The ranch belonged to a former mayor of the town, who had resigned to run for state congress, but was killed Tuesday. At least 18 politicians have been killed in the state since September. Guerrero is one of Mexico's prime opium growing regions.

(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: New SBA Rules Hurts Pot Industry, Aghan Opium Harvest Underway, More... (5/1/18)

The Trump administration gets creative in coming up with a new way to mess with legal marijuana-related businesses, a pair of Oklahoma marijuana initiatives get approved for signature gathering, Arkansas drug testing results are in -- and they're not impressive -- and more.

It's harvest time for Afghan opium poppies. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Trump Administration Finds New Way to Hurt Marijuana-Related Businesses. Under new rules issued last month by the Small Business Administration, companies doing business with the marijuana industry will find it more difficult to obtain SBA loans. Under the new rule, banks are prohibited from using SBA-backed loans to finance any business that works directly with the marijuana industry. The rule impacts not only marijuana businesses, but could extend to web designers, gardening suppliers, consultants, and others who derive even a small portion of their income from marijuana businesses.

Oklahoma Legalization and Medical Initiatives Can Start Collecting Signatures. The state is set to vote on one medical marijuana initiative next month, but a group called Green the Vote has now received approval from the state to start collecting signatures for a pair of initiatives that would legalize medical marijuana and recreational marijuana via a constitutional amendment. The medical marijuana initiative is Proposed SQ 796; the legalization initiative is Proposed SQ 797. The group will start collecting signatures on May 11 and will need 125,000 valid voter signatures by August 8 to qualify for the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri House Passes Smokeless Medical Marijuana Bill. The House on Tuesday approved House Bill 1554, which would allow terminal patients and patients suffering from debilitating conditions to use a smokeless form of medical marijuana. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Hemp

Illinois Senate Approves Hemp Bill. The Senate has approved Senate Bill 2298, which would allow farmers to apply for permits to grow industrial hemp. The measure passed the Senate on a 50-0 vote and is now before the House.

Drug Testing

Arkansas Welfare Drug Testing Achieves Little. After two years of requiring people seeking Transitional Employment Assistance and/or food stamps to submit to drug screens and possible drug tests, the results are in: Out of 7,000 applicants, only 31 were considered to be likely to be using drugs and thus subject to a drug test. Of those, only 12 submitted drug tests, and of those, only four actually tested positive for drugs. That's four out of 7,000 people subjected to the demeaning and strigmatizing process.

International

Afghan Opium Harvest Gets Underway. Afghan farmers are out in the fields as the country's opium poppy harvest gets underway. The country produced a record crop of 9,000 tons of opium last year. Much of the poppy production takes place in areas outside central government control.

Chronicle AM: ME Lawmakers Pass MJ Sales Bill, Amnesty Death Penalty Report, More... (4/12/18)

It's time to let the FDA know what you think about marijuana scheduling, Maine lawmakers pass a veto-proof pot sales bill, the Trump administration wants to drug test some food stamp recipients, Amnesty International reports on drug death penalty countries, and more.

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox calls for the legalization of opium poppy cultivation in Mexico. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

FDA Accepting Public Comment on Marijuana Classification for Next Two Weeks. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is accepting public comment from "interested parties" regarding the classification of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. (CSA). The CSA places marijuana in Schedule I, a category reserved for drugs with no accepted medical use and high abuse potential. The FDA is acting now because the World Health Organization is set to review its own classification of marijuana and is seeking input from member nations, of which the US is the most influential. Public comment is open until April 23.

Former GOP House Speaker Boehner Now Supports Marijuana Legalization. Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said Wednesday he has had a change of heart regarding marijuana and will help promote marijuana legalization nationwide. He also announced that he and former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld (R) are joining the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, a national marijuana company. "I decided to get involved because of the struggles of our country's veterans and the opioid epidemic, after learning how descheduling the drug can potentially help with both crises," said Boehner.

Maine Legislature Passes Marijuana Legalization Implementation Plan by Veto-Proof Margin. After Gov. Paul LePage (R) vetoed a first effort to implement regulated and taxed marijuana commerce, the legislature has now approved a new measure to do so, this time by a veto-proof margin. The House passed the bill on Tuesday and the Senate followed on Wednesday. The bill will limit home cultivation to three plants, impose a 10% sales tax, as well as a $335 per pound tax on producers. It will also mandate that localities proactively opt-in before sales will be allowed.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Business Evaluations Halted after Court Ruling. The Department of Finance and Administration said Wednesday that the Medical Marijuana Commission's review of dispensary evaluations has been put on hold. The stoppage is the result of a ruling last week from a state circuit court judge that the licensing process for cultivators violated the 2016 voter-approved initiative legalizing medical marijuana. We are under an injunction that voids the method of cultivation scoring. Therefore, dispensary application review is on hold as we review the situation," Scott Hardin with DFA told KATV in Little Rock.

Drug Testing

Trump Administration Ponders Plan to Impose Drug Testing for Some Food Stamp Recipients. The administration is pondering a plan that would let states require that certain food stamp recipients undergo drug testing. The nose-under-the-tent proposal would mainly target able-bodied adults without children who apply for certain specialized job categories. That would be about 5% of all food stamp recipients. The move has long been desired by conservatives who seek ways to curb the safety net program.

International

Amnesty International Report: Four Countries Executed Drug Offenders in 2017. At least four countries executed people for drug offenses last year, Amnesty International said in a new report. Those countries are China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore. "Despite strides towards abolishing this abhorrent punishment, there are still a few leaders who would resort to the death penalty as a 'quick-fix' rather than tackling problems at their roots with humane, effective and evidence-based policies," said Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty.

Former Mexican President Calls for Legalization of Opium Production. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox called Wednesday for the legalization of opium production in the country as a means of weakening drug cartels. "The plants themselves are not harmful, we make them harmful, (especially) the criminals who use them for evil purposes," Fox said at a pro-marijuana event in the capital. Fox said legalizing poppies would curtail cartel profits and boost public safety in the violence-wracked southern state of Guerrero, which has been hit hard by prohibition-related violence in recent years. Fox also implored candidates in the July presidential election to openly debate drug legalization before the vote.

Chronicle AM: Hash Bash Looks to November, Philly Safe Injection Site Proposed, More... (4/9/18)

Marijuana social consumption gets delayed in Alaska and rebuffed in Colorado, Ann Arbor's annual Hash Bash draws politicians this year, the US is ramping up its bombing campaign against Taliban drug labs, and more.

Vancouver's InSite safe injection site. Could one be coming to Philadelphia? (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Regulators Postpone Discussion on Social Consumption. The state's Marijuana Control Board has postponed until June any further discussion of draft rules that would allow people to consume marijuana at authorized pot shops. Although the Alcohol and Marijuana Office had recommended that the board release the draft rules for public comment, the board decided to wait until it was back to full strength. One of the board's five members resigned last month.

Colorado Social Consumption Bill Killed. The General Assembly last week killed Senate Bill 211, which would have allowed businesses to obtain a marijuana consumption club license. The move came after both the Department of Revenue and the Marijuana Enforcement Division lobbied against it because of what they called "significant law enforcement challenges and health and safety risks." But the city of Denver is going ahead with licensing social consumption clubs.

Michigan's Hash Bash Becomes a Campaign Event. The 47th annual Hash Bash had a slightly different flavor this year: With a legalization initiative poised to appear on the November ballot and with opinion polls showing majority support for legalization, this year's event was all about imminent legalization -- and getting on the right side of the issue. Two Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Gretchen Whitmer and Abdul El-Sayed showed up to support the issue, as did Democratic attorney general candidate Dana Nessel.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Advisory Board Recommends Allowing Dry Leaf or Plant Form Medical Marijuana. The medical marijuana advisory board voted Monday to allow the use of "dry leaf or plant form for administration by vaporization." The vote is only a recommendation; the final decision is up to state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine. The vote was 11-0.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Democratic Senators Want to Know What Happened to Trump's Opioid Commission. Democratic Sens. Patty Murry (WA) and Elizabeth Warren (MA) sent a letter to the White House Monday asking the administration to update on progress made on implementing recommendations made by its opioid commission last November. "We are concerned by reports that in spite of the opioid epidemic's devastating impact on American communities, your Administration has failed to act aggressively to combat it," Warren and Murray wrote. "You declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency on October 26, 2017, but there has been little evidence that your Administration has taken advantage of the supplemental executive branch authorities and resources provided by this designation."

Foreign Policy

US Expands Air Strikes Aimed at Taliban Drug Labs. US and Afghan government forces have expanded their campaign of air strikes aimed at Taliban opium processing labs, hitting 11 sites in the past week. These latest strikes were in Farah and Nimroz provinces in western Afghanistan and were the first in the region. So far this year, the about of bombs dropped is triple the number dropped in the first part of last year. The strikes are aimed at hurting Taliban finances, but analysts warn the could kill or injure civilians and are unlikely to have a major impact on the Taliban.

Harm Reduction

Philadelphia Joins List of Cities Pondering Safe Injection Sites. City officials are moving to make the city one of the first in the country to have a safe injection site. A public hearing to discuss the notion took place last Wednesday. "We have a crisis here in Philadelphia," said Dr. Tom Farley, Philadelphia Health Commissioner. "These facilities look sort of like a clinic. If they're simply there to inject, they bring in their own drugs that they have bought on the street, they're given sterile equipment and they inject at the site. If they were to overdose on site, there are medical staff on site who can revive them." But this is just a first step; actually getting one or more up and running in the city could take months or years. Other US cities pondering the harm reduction move include Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.

(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.)

Trump's Afghanistan "Taliban Heroin Lab" Bombing Campaign is Just More Drug War Theater [FEATURE]

On the night of November 19, small-time Afghan opium trader Hajii Habibullah finished his day's business at the local opium bazaar in Musa Qala, in Helmand province, and headed home to his family. He never saw the sunrise.

Afghan poppy fields account for about 90% of the global opium crop. (UNODC)
Helmand province is a poppy-growing powerhouse that for years has been hotly contested terrain in the battle between Taliban insurgents and the Afghan government and NATO forces. Under new authority from the Trump White House allowing the US military to "attack the enemy across the breadth and the depth of the battle space, and also functionally, to attack their financial networks, their revenue streams," US and Afghan warplanes mounted bombing raids on "Taliban drug labs," targeting three districts in Helmand. That night, Musa Qala was target one in a dramatic escalation in US Afghanistan policy.

In a press briefing two days later, Gen. John Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan guided reporters through videos documenting the attacks, with bomb blasts destroying small structures as the general narrated strikes by US B-52s and F-22 Raptors. The raid in Musa Qala destroyed "millions" in "opium cooking at the time of the strike," repeatedly emphasizing how careful the raids were to minimize "collateral" casualties.

But the first bombs to fall on Musa Qala didn't fall on a "Taliban narcotics production facility." They fell on Hajii Habibullah's house, killing him, his wife, his seven-year-old daughter, four sons aged between three and eight, as well as a visiting adult daughter and her year-old daughter. Only the son-in-law sleeping in a guest house on the property survived.

That's according to on-the-scene field research contained in a report released last month by the London School of Economics International Drug Policy Unit. The analysis, written by Dr. David Mansfield, who has been conducting research on rural economies and poppy cultivation in Afghanistan for the past two decades, is sharply critical of the Trump administration's aggressive new turn. Mansfield isn't the only one sounding alarms. Warnings that the policy is expensive and unlikely to achieve its objectives while having serious negative consequences are coming from other academic analysts, too, and even from the watchdog agency charged with overseeing the US Afghan war.

Last month, in a Pentagon briefing, spokesmen claimed the campaign of airstrikes, which have continued after that first attack in November, was crippling the Taliban's ability to fund itself though the drug trade. Defense officials claimed the raids had destroyed $80 million worth of heroin, resulting in a $16 million loss for the Taliban, who make money taxing the trade.

But Mansfield demolishes that claim:

"At current prices for heroin, the losses USFOR-A refer to would amount to almost 73 metric tons of heroin, that's nearly 3 metric tons of heroin in each lab destroyed," he wrote.

With a conversion rate of between 9 and 13.5 kilograms of fresh opium per kilogram of heroin, this would require between 27,000 and 40,500 kilograms of fresh opium per lab. It would mean that the 25 labs destroyed were responsible for converting between 8 to 11 percent of the entire 2017 crop of 9,000 metric tons. There is little evidence from the nine buildings destroyed [in Musa Qala] to support such a claim.

Going on the tax rates levied on the [Musa Qala] labs, were the aerial campaign to have actually destroyed 73 metric tons of heroin, the loss in revenue to the Taliban would have been around $1.2 million, considerably less than the amount reported by USFOR-A.

Were the air attacks to have destroyed a series of houses rented out to cook opium in much smaller batches, as the case would appear to be in [Musa Qala], the loss in revenue to the Taliban would have been negligible. In fact, the 50 barrels of opium cooking at the time of the strike that [USFOR-A commander] General [John] Nicholson referred to as being worth 'millions of dollars' would have been worth at most $190,750 if converted to heroin and no more than $2,863 to the Taliban.

Brookings Institute senior fellow in the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert on international and internal security threats and nontraditional security threats, including insurgency, illicit economies, and organized crime who has done fieldwork and research in Afghanistan, was also skeptical.

"The Pentagon has made various claims about the size of the impact on Taliban finances, but that is all highly speculative," said Felbab-Brown. "The logic is that a certain amount of heroin is destroyed per target and that heroin is assigned that same value per unit price, but we can't assume that. It could be there was no processed heroin there at all, only opium. The only value might be that it eliminated one Taliban financier who happened to present, or maybe disrupted one link in the trade, but we can't even assume that."

"By and large, the campaign will not make a significant dent in Taliban financing," argued Felbab-Brown. "They will have to be extremely lucky to destroy large portions of opium stockpiles that have been growing for years. And the Taliban has different local arrangements -- sometimes they tax the labs, sometimes they're further downstream -- so I don't expect any significant financial losses for them."

In its latest quarterly report, issued January 31, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a government watchdog agency, also took issue with the military's claims about the damage it was inflicting on Taliban finances -- and questioned the cost-effectiveness of the campaign.

In a special section on the drug lab bombing campaign, SIGAR says that the methodology the military uses to assess the value of the labs it destroys leaves it "unclear whether the DOD figure is an accurate estimate of how much revenue is eliminated by air strikes on drug labs."

What is known, SIGAR reports, is how much it costs to fly the planes dropping the bombs:

According to the latest DOD financial management report, an F-22 costs between $35,294 and $36,799 per hour to operate; a B-52 between $32,569 and $34,341 per hour; and an F/A-18 between $9,798 and $16,173 per hour, depending on the model. By contrast, the labs being destroyed are cheap and easy to replace. Afghans told Reuters it would take three or four days to replace a lab in Afghanistan. According to UNODC, the morphine/heroin labs need only simple equipment such as a stove, iron barrel, and locally made pressing machines.

SIGAR was also cognizant of the potential political risks involved in dropping bombs in the middle of settlements: "One danger of a sustained air campaign is civilian casualties, which could erode support for the Afghan government and potentially increase support for the insurgency," the report noted.

That was the case in Musa Qala, where Mansfield noted that Helmand members of parliament had voiced objections and where a local informant angrily declared: "These are not Taliban. They killed women and children, NATO killed them."

In rural Afghanistan, where opium is the backbone of the economy, it isn't just the Taliban involved. It's peasant farmers and field-workers, traders and middlemen, local officials and warlords. And that makes using military force to attack what is essentially a criminal problem especially problematic.

"That's one of the challenges of the campaign," said Felbab-Brown. "The military can go after 'Taliban-linked' targets, but what does that mean? In some cases the lab might belong to a trader, a local criminal actor, but in other cases, it will be operated by peasants. The tendency in the drug markets is to move away from very large labs and have many dispersed labs precisely to prevent significant disruption. These are mainly small labs operated by low-level peasants who have acquired the skills to do the processing," she added.

"There is a very significant risk of hitting a lot of very low-level people, while those with political connections get away with it," the Brookings scholar pointed out. "The risk is of pushing people into the hands of the Taliban and making them more dependent on the Taliban."

The Trump White House is pressing the "Taliban heroin lab" bombing campaign because things aren't going so well in Afghanistan, in terms of either counternarcotics or counterinsurgency. Nearly 17 years after the US first invaded to drive the Taliban from power, the insurgency is stronger than ever, with the Taliban reportedly controlling more than a third of the population, rising civilian and military death tolls, and a US-backed government in Kabul seemingly incapable of either fighting or governing effectively.

"Afghan government control or influence has declined and insurgent control or influence has increased overall since SIGAR began reporting control data in January 2016," the watchdog said in its report, while also noting that for the first time, the Pentagon prohibited it from publicizing the full district and land area under the control of the government and insurgent groups or reporting on the strength and capabilities of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.

Similarly, the war on drugs in Afghanistan isn't exactly being won, either. Since 2002, SIGAR reported, the US has spent $8.7 billion on counternarcotics efforts in the country, only to see it remain responsible for the great bulk of the world's opium production throughout the period. Last fall, just before the bombs began falling on the labs, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported in its Afghanistan Opium Survey 2017 that opium planting was at an all-time high, up 63% over 2016, with strong increases reported in almost all poppy-planting provinces.

For the Trump administration, going after opium and the Taliban seems like a natural, and going aggressive fits with Trump's militaristic bent, but all the sound and fury is unlikely to accomplish much.

"There is action for the sake of action because the White House and Sessions want to see action," said Felbab-Brown. "There is this domestic image being created about opiates, and various government officials and Republicans have been obliquely linking the US opiate epidemic to global markets, but there is no evidence whatsoever that the US market is in any significant way supplied by Afghanistan. Still, the Pentagon had to demonstrate that it was doing something, and the thing it can do most easily is bomb interdiction sites, those so-called heroin labs."

Although the county accounts for around 90% of the global opium supply, very little Afghan opium ends up as heroin consumed by American drug users. According to the DEA's annual 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment, only about 1% of heroin in the US comes from Afghanistan. Instead, Mexico accounts for 80% and Colombia and Guatemala make up the remainder.

Brookings Institution counternarcotics and counterinsurgency expert Vanda Felbab-Brown (YouTube)
"There is far more pressure from Trump on actors in Afghanistan to demonstrate results and far less comprehension that demonstrating results for its own sake with significant negative side effects is counterproductive," said Felbab-Brown. "Obama had much more comprehension of the risks of things like eradication, and Trump is more far more determined to revive doctrinaire old counternarcotics approaches, many of which harken back to the drug dogma of the 1980s and 1990s."

But trying to suppress the Afghan opium economy is a loser's game for the foreseeable future, she argued.

"There are real limits on what interdiction or eradication can do. There is much greater insecurity than at any point since 2002-2003, there are fewer US troops available for ground action, and Afghans can't provide adequate security for US personnel on ground interdiction, much less an air interdiction campaign that can demonstrate some numbers," she said. "There can never be a winning situation with respect to drugs unless and until conflict has ended and the state has a presence throughout the country," said Felbab-Brown. "It's extraordinarily difficult to replace a vast illicit economy, and in Afghanistan, where the opium trade accounts for 30% of GDP, it would be an enormous undertaking."

Effectively going after the opium economy would also involve going after people other than the Taliban, she pointed out.

"We should think about interdiction in the same way we think about interdicting high value targets," she said. "Use it to target those who pose the greatest threat to the Afghan state, and that's not just Taliban actors. There are Afghan politicians clamoring to bring down the government, and they have heroin assets. Interdiction shouldn't be seen just as a tool of limiting the Taliban, but as a broader stabilization tool. But that would require far greater authorization, which the US military doesn't currently have -- it can only go after Taliban financing."

The situation is unlikely to get better in the medium term, with the Taliban and other insurgent groups seemingly striking at will, the Afghan military seemingly unable to stop them, and the Afghan government focused on hotly contested presidential elections set for next year and oft-postponed parliamentary elections set for later this year.

"Things could become much worse," said Felbab-Brown, "and with any significant instability it will become that much more difficult to conduct counter-narcotics operations."

But that's where US policy in Afghanistan appears to be heading.

"Trump and Sessions have the inclination and the desire for many of the same doctrinaire drug war policies both domestically and internationally," she said. "There is huge pressure from them on Colombia to ramp up coca eradication, and we could get in a situation where there will be huge pressure from the White House to conduct aerial spraying of opium poppies. That would be the last nail in the coffin of Afghan counterinsurgency."

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