Opium Production

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Chronicle AM: Fed Sentencing Reform Bill Looms, HHS Recommends Kratom Ban, More... (11/13/18)

Congress could move on both sentencing reform and industrial hemp in the lame duck session, HHS recommends banning kratom, Thailand moves to legalize and regulate both kratom and medical marijuana, and more.

Despite spending $8 billion to suppress the poppy crop, the situation in Afghanistan is "worse than ever," a new report finds.
Sentencing Reform

Federal Sentencing Reform Bill Set to Advance. Key senators have reached a tentative agreement on a major criminal justice reform bill that is being supported by presidential advisor and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. The proposed legislation would boost rehabilitation efforts for federal prisoners and give judges more discretion when sentencing nonviolent offenders, particularly for drug offenses. The measure has support from both liberal and conservative groups, ranging from the ACLU to the Fraternal Order of Police and groups supported by the Koch brothers.

Marijuana Policy

Michigan Prosecutors Start Dropping Marijuana Cases. Local prosecutors are beginning to announce the dropping of charges in pending marijuana cases after voters last week voted to legalize the drug. Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said last Friday that "there will no longer be any prosecutions for possession or use of marijuana" in his jurisdiction, and other DAs are expected to follow suit.

Texas Lawmaker Files Marijuana Decriminalization Bill. State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) has prefiled a marijuana decriminalization bill for the 2019 legislative session. "Civil penalty legislation is the first thing I've filed on the first day of filing for the 86th Session. There's been an incredible swell of bipartisan support since last session, and the official Texas Republican and Democratic platforms both approve of this kind of reform now," Moody said in a press release. "I'm optimistic that this will be the session we finally see smarter, fairer marijuana laws in Texas."

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Adds Chronic Neuropathic Pain to List of Qualifying Conditions. The General Assembly's Regulations Review Committee has agreed that chronic neuropathic pain associated with degenerative spinal disorders is eligible for treatment with the drug. That makes it the 31st specific condition considered a qualifier for medical marijuana.

Industrial Hemp

McConnell Says Hemp Provision Will Be in Farm Bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Friday that completing work on a new farm bill is a top priority and that a provision to fully legalize hemp cultivation will be included.

Kratom

HHS Recommends Banning Kratom. The Department of Health and Human Services has recommended that kratom be placed in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. HHS sent a letter to the DEA saying that two chemicals in the herbal supplement should be Schedule I. The recommendation is in line with past public statements from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who calls kratom "an opioid" and says it has been "associated" with dozens of deaths.

International

Thai Congress Proposes Legalizing Kratom, Medical Marijuana. The National Legislative Assembly has officially proposed allowing the licensed use of medical marijuana and kratom. The two drugs would be placed in a legal category that would allow their licensed possession and distribution. The Health Ministry will review the proposal before submitting it to the cabinet, which could amend it before returning it to the legislature. The entire process could be completed by year's end.

Foreign Policy

Afghan Opium Problem "Worse Than Ever," Inspector General's Report Finds. Despite the US spending more than $8 billion to reduce opium cultivation in Afghanistan, the problem is "worse than ever," a new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) finds. "No counterdrug program undertaken… by the United States, its coalition partners, or the Afghan government resulted in lasting reductions in poppy cultivation or opium production," the report stated.

Chronicle AM: NY Senate Report on Opioids, WY Marijuana Poll, More... (10/25/18)

A new poll has marijuana legalization on the cusp of majority support even in Wyoming, the New York state Senate releases its report on the state's opioid crisis, and more.

Will Russia join the list of medicinal opium producers? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Marijuana Activists Urges Quick Action on Legalization. As the governor and the legislature work to find an agreement on a marijuana legalization bill, legalization supporters are growing impatient. "There's been hearings, there's been committee meetings, there's a lot of discussions, there's a lot of science behind it but right now it's getting very frustrating," said. New Jersey CannaBusiness Association President Scott Rudder. "We understand the process takes time -- but enough is enough. "We need to get past this, we need to resolve some of these issues. It's very frustrating." Gov. Phil Murphy (D) had called for legalization within 90 days of his January inauguration, then it was supposed to be voted on this month, and the latest is by year's end. Stay tuned.

Wyoming Poll Has Legalization on Cusp of Majority Support. A new poll from the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center at the University of Wyoming shows nearly half of Wyoming residents -- 49 percent -- support legalization of marijuana for recreational use. That number is significantly higher when the question comes to medical marijuana, with 86 percent supporting legalization in that form. And 69 percent of residents think possession of a small amount of the drug shouldn't lead to jail time. The poll also notes that there has been a a statistically significant increase in positive views on marijuana legalization compared to polls from 2014 and 2016.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Senate Heroin Task Force Releases Recommendations, Findings in New Report. The State Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction on Wednesday released its 2017-2018 report, including 11 recommendations on ways the state should address the opioid crisis. The committee wants the state to create "Centers for Excellence on Substance Use Disorder" as a way to improve access to treatment in rural parts of the state, as well as increasing resources to healthcare workers trained to treat substance abuse disorders. The task force also calls for reducing the cost of Naloxone, limits on opioid prescriptions, and tougher penalties for dealers whose drug sales result in fatal overdoses.

International

Russia Moves Toward Allowing Medicinal Opium Planting. A government commission has approved a draft law that would allow the cultivation of opium for medicinal purposes, citing the fact that most legal medicinal opium producing countries are participating in sanctions against Russia. "It is proposed to abolish the existing ban and determine the order of cultivation of plants for the production for medical purposes and veterinary medicine of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances," the government press service reported.

Chronicle AM: New Pew Pot Poll, UK MedMJ, Mexico Opium Talk, More... (10/8/18)

A new Pew poll shows continuing majority support for marijuana legalization, Mexico's president-elect talks legalizing opium production for the medical market, Texas's governor gets behind reducing pot penalties, and more.

Mexican President-Elect Andres Lopez Manuel Obrador is talking about legalizing opium production again. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Pew Poll Has Continued Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. More than six out of 10 Americans (62%) say marijuana should be legalized, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. That's largely unchanged from last year when the figure was 61%. Among Democrats, 69% support legalization; among independents, the figure is 75%, but only 45% of Republicans support it.

Texas Governor Proposes Lessening Possession Punishments. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced last Friday that he favors dropping the maximum penalty for marijuana possession from six months in jail to a fine and no jail time. Such a move would not be decriminalization, though, because possession would remain a misdemeanor, although a less serious one.

International

Ireland Should Decriminalize Drugs, Report Says. A new report from the Ana Liffey Project and the London School of Economics says treating people caught with small amounts of drugs as criminals is "counter-productive". Instead, the report says, such offenses should be decriminalized. "The evidence is pretty clear that decriminalization is the smarter way to deal with this issue, that you shouldn't be giving young people, or anyone for that matter, criminal records for possessing certain substances or consuming certain substances," said Dr. John Collins from the London School of Economics International Drug Policy Unit. "That, ultimately, is just an ineffective way and an ineffective use of police resources."

United Kingdom to Allow Medical Marijuana by Prescription Starting Next Month. Beginning next month, people in the UK will be able to obtain cannabis oil containing THC through prescriptions. The Home Office will reportedly announce the rescheduling of marijuana in parliament within the next two weeks, and patients will be able to obtain prescriptions within a matter of weeks after that.

Mexico President-Elect Says He Will Look at Legalizing Some Drugs. President-Elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Sunday he would consider legalizing certain drugs as part of a broader strategy to fight crime and poverty. He also said he would consider paying farmers more for their corn as a means of reducing the planting of opium.

Mexico Defense Minister Says Legalizing Opium for Medical Use a "Way Out" of Violence. Defense Minister General Salvador Cienfuegos said last Friday that legalizing opium for medicinal use could help reduce violence among drug gangs fighting over control of poppy fields and trafficking routes in the country's southwest. Legalization "is already on the table. I think it can be a way out of the problem," Cienfuegos said when asked about violence in the state and proposals to regulate opium production.

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: 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: No Marijuana "Gifting" for Vermont Businesses, Duterte Vows More Drug War, More... (7/23/18)

Attorneys General in New Jersey and Vermont lay down the law on pot, Oklahomans rally against restrictive medical marijuana rules, Filipino President Duterte vows more drug war, and more.

The bloody-handed Philippines president vows even more carnage in his war on drug users and sellers. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Attorney General Says Jersey City Can't Decriminalize. State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said last Friday that Jersey City doesn't have the power to decriminalize marijuana. The move came a day after the city decriminalized possession by decree. Grewal wrote that his office "takes no position" on marijuana legalization or decriminalization, "rather, I write to advise that, as a municipal prosecutor, you do not have the legal authority to decriminalize marijuana or otherwise refuse to criminally prosecute all marijuana-related offenses in the municipal courts of Jersey City," Grewal writes. "Accordingly, I am instructing you that your memorandum is void and has no effect."

Vermont Attorney General Rules That Businesses Can't "Give" Marijuana in Connection with Other Purchases. State Attorney General T.J. Donovan provided guidance Monday to clarify that trying to get around the state's no marijuana sales legalization law by providing pot as a "gift" when purchasing some other item remains illegal. The move came after some Burlington businesses began a delivery service that "gifted" marijuana with the purchase of a courier service. They had argued that they were operating under a loophole in the law, but Donovan disagreed.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Advocates Rally Against Emergency Rules. Medical marijuana supporters rallied Saturday at the state capitol amid frustration over emergency rules promulgated by the state Board of Health and said they would be back again Tuesday. The board on July 10 approved emergency rules that would, among other things, ban the sale of smokable marijuana products and require a pharmacist to be on site at dispensaries. Last week, Attorney General Mike Hunter (R) said the board overstepped its authority, and the board now says it will meet again soon to reevaluate the proposed rules.

International

British Poll Finds First Majority for Marijuana Legalization. For the first time, a public opinion in the United Kingdom shows a majority in favor of marijuana legalization. A new BMG Research poll had 22% strongly supporting legalization and another 29% somewhat supporting legalization, bringing total support to 51%. Some 35% were opposed, and 14% had no opinion. A second question regarding decriminalization yielded a similar 52% approval.

Mexican Opium Growers Ask AMLO to Legalize Cultivation. A group of community leaders from the poppy-producing region of Guerrero state has appealed to president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) to legalize the cultivation of opium poppies for use in the manufacture of legal pharmaceutical drugs. "As a priority, we are seeking the legalization of the cultivation of poppies for medicinal purposes so that farmers in the Sierra are no longer criminalized," Arturo López Torres, a member of a local union that advocates for economic and social development, told the newspaper El Universal. The growers also want AMLO to clarify whether poppy farmers who have been jailed for growing the crop would qualify under the government's proposed amnesty law.

Philippines' Duterte Vows to Continue "Relentless and Chilling" Drug War. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday vowed to continue his bloody war on drugs, telling a joint session of Congress the fight would be as "relentless and chilling" as it has been during his first two years in power, which have seen thousands of people killed. He also took a swipe at critics, saying "your concern is human rights, mine is human lives." But not, apparently, the lives of accused drug users or sellers.

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.

Drug War Issues

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