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Chronicle AM: NJ Gov Says Legalize It This Year, Duterte Pulls Out of ICC, More... (3/14/18)

New Jersey pot legalization politics heats up, the CDC reports a big jump in opioid overdoses, the Sentencing Commission ponders increasing fentanyl penalties, Duterte pulls the Philippines out of the International Criminal Court, and more. 

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) says legalize it this year. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Bill Filed. Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) has filed Assembly Bill 3581, which would legalize the possession of marijuana, allow for home cultivation, and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. The bill envisions some 400 pot shops across the states.

New Jersey Governor Budgets for Legal Weed, Wants It This Year. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) wants the legislature to legalize marijuana this year and has included $60 million in tax revenues from legal weed in his state budget proposal. "I am committed to working with you to get this passed this year," Murphy said in his budget address at the Statehouse in Trenton.

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Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Sued Over Denial of Cultivation License. A would-be medical marijuana provider who failed to win a license from the state has sued the Medical Marijuana Commission. Natural Health filed suit Thursday in Pulaski County Circuit Court charging the selection process was "plagued by unlawful and inconsistent procedures" and that members of the commission were biased or had conflicts of interest. . 

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

CDC Reports Opioid Overdoses Jumped 30% in 14 Months. Opioid overdoses in the US increased by about 30% over the course of 14 months, according to a report issued Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Data collected in 16 states across the country show some emergency rooms experienced as high as a 109% increase (Wisconsin) in overdoses between July 2016 and September 2017 while others — including Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island — reported declines. "This fast-moving epidemic affects both men and women, and people of every age. It does not respect state or county lines and is still increasing in every region in the United States," said CDC Acting Director Anne Schuchat.


US Sentencing Commission Ponders Increased Penalties for Fentanyl Dealers. The Sentencing Commission is holding a hearing today on whether to lengthen prison sentences for people caught dealing fentanyl. Under the proposal, first-time offenders caught selling a half ounce of fentanyl would face up to five years in prison—more than twice the current sentence. While the Justice Department supports the proposal, the Drug Policy Alliance says that implementing the plan would have "perverse public health impacts."


Experts at UN Side Event Call for Access to Morphine for Severe Pain. The Organization for the Prevention of Intense Suffering (OPIS), a Swiss think-and-do tank, and International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policies (IDHDP), a London-based network, are holding a side event with expert panelists during the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council, titled "Ending the Agony: Access to Morphine as an Ethical and Human Rights Imperative." The groups are calling for a centralized strategy for access to opioid pain relievers, better balance between access and control, "an ambitious scale-up of training and oral morphine distribution," and destigmatizing the use of morphine and other opiates.

Duterte Will Withdraw Philippines from International Criminal Court. In a statement Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte announced that the Philippines will withdraw from the ICC. The move comes weeks after the ICC announced it was investigating allegations the Duterte government committed crimes against humanity in its bloody war on drugs, which has left thousands dead since he took office in May 2016.

Panamá Opens the Door to CBD Medicinal Marijuana with a Proposed Law. The government has filed a bill to allow the use of CBD cannabis oil, Bill 595. It was prompted out of concern for children suffering from epilepsy. The bill could be amended by the National Assembly.

Chronicle AM: Bernie Sanders Marijuana Petition, Dutch Bank Gets Huge Money Laundering Fine, More... (2/9/18)

A Bernie Sanders petition calls for marijuana legalization and an end to the drug war, a Dutch bank gets hit with a massive fine for cartel money laundering, New York's governor takes flak from drug reform groups on a couple of fronts, and more.

Bernie Sanders launches a petition calling for marijuana legalization and end to the drug war. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders Petition Asks Congress to Legalize Marijuana. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has sent out an online petition to his email list subscribers asking Congress to legalize marijuana and "end the war on drugs." In 2015, Sanders filed the first ever marijuana legalization bill in Congress. Even though the petition is unlikely to lead to any results while Republicans control the Congress, it will help Sanders burnish his credentials as a leader of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

Arizona Legalization Bill Filed. Reps. Mark Cardenas (D-Phoenix) and Todd Clodfelter (R-Tucson) filed a marijuana legalization bill Thursday. HCR 2037 would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot, allow for the cultivation of up to six plants, and create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana production and sales. Voters narrowly rejected a legalization initiative there in 2016.

New Jersey Legalization Hearing Set for Next Month. Assemblyman Joseph Danielsen (D-Somerset), chairman of the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Reform and Federal Relations Committee, said Thursday the committee will hold a hearing on marijuana legalization on March 5. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on marijuana legalization and reiterated that pledge during his inaugural address last month.

Seattle to Expunge Past Marijuana Convictions. Following the lead of San Francisco, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said Thursday the city is moving to automatically clear past misdemeanor convictions for marijuana possession. "For thousands of people in Washington state, a misdemeanor marijuana conviction had huge implications: It could be a barrier to housing, to getting credit, to getting good jobs and education," Mayor Jenny Durkan told a news conference. "It is a necessary step to right the wrongs of what was a failed war on drugs." Voters in Washington state approved marijuana legalization in 2012.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Bill to Let People Prescribed Opioids Get Temporary Medical Marijuana Cards Advances. The Senate Executive Committee approved Senate Bill 336 on Wednesday. The bill would allow people who have been prescribed opioids to apply for a temporary medical cannabis card. If passed, those prescribed opioids would be able to participate in the program if their applications are approved by the state. The background check and fingerprinting process normally required for applicants of the program would also be waived that first year because of the urgency of the crisis.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Drug Reform, Harm Reduction Groups Criticize Governor's Move to Stiffen Fentanyl Analog Penalties. The Harm Reduction Coalition, the Drug Policy Alliance, and VOCAL-NY are among the organizations calling out Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) over his move to add 11 fentanyl analogs to the state's controlled substances schedule, a change that would increase the number of fentanyl varieties that would garner top felony charges. "The governor boasts about giving law enforcement the tools they need to make more arrests, but says nothing about providing people at risk of overdose the tools they need to survive," Daniel Raymond of the Harm Reduction Coalition said Thursday. "We won't end the overdose crisis by filling up jail cells."

New Synthetic Substances

New York Drug Reform Groups Criticize Governor's Move to Further Criminalize Synthetic Cannabinoids. The Manhattan-based Drug Policy Alliance and the drug user group VOCAL-NY are opposing Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) call to further criminalize the sale of synthetic cannabinoids, also referred to as "synthetic marijuana" or "K2." Such laws do little to curb use, do nothing to increase public health and safety in New York State, and undermine the ability of the state to effectively prevent minors from obtaining the substances, the groups said. The state should just legalize marijuana instead, the groups said.


Dutch Bank Hit With $369 Million Fine for Laundering Mexico Drug Cartel Money. The Dutch bank Rabobank has been fined $369 million by the US government after it admitted handling millions in illicit funds, the Justice Department announced Wednesday. The bank also pleaded guilty to obstructing the investigation in trying to avoid repeating sanctions imposed on it in 2006 and 2008 for "nearly identical failures," DOJ said. "When Rabobank learned that substantial numbers of its customers' transactions were indicative of international narcotics trafficking, organized crime, and money laundering activities, it chose to look the other way and to cover up deficiencies in its anti-money laundering program," Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan said. A former Rabobank vice president, George Martin, entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the US concerning his role in the case, according to the DOJ. He admitted -- in a federal court in San Diego in December -- to playing a role in setting up the policies that prevented additional controls. The bank will also have to pay a $50 million penalty to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Chronicle AM: VT Legalizes Without Sales, Sentencing Commission Proposes Upped Fentanyl Penalties, More... (1/22/18)

Vermont becomes the 9th legal marijuana state, Illinois lawmakers take up legalization, the US Sentencing Commission proposing increasing fentanyl penalties, and more.

Vermont just turned New England a little greener. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Another National Poll Has a Strong Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal has support for marijuana legalization at 60% nationwide, up from 55% the last time the media outlets asked the question, in 2014.

Illinois Lawmakers Hold Hearing on Marijuana Legalization. A joint legislative committee began a hearing on marijuana legalization Monday morning. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle told legislators she supported it: "Legalizing marijuana is an important step in right-sizing our criminal justice system, reducing racial disparities in prosecuting non-violent drug offenses, targeting our scarce resources on prosecuting violent crime and lessening the social dislocation we see in too many of our communities," Preckwinkle said. The only relevant bill currently before the legislator is Senate Bill 2275, which would authorize a non-binding statewide referendum on the topic of legalization.

Vermont Legalizes Marijuana; Becomes First State to Do So Via Legislative Process. With Gov. Phil Scott's (R) signature on House Bill 511 Monday, the state legalized the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, becoming the first state to free the weed via the legislature. The new law goes into effect July 1. The new law does not legalize the taxed and regulated commercial production and sale of marijuana. Instead, the bill calls for a task force appointed by the governor to study the issue and recommend "legislation on implementing and operating a comprehensive regulatory and revenue system for an adult marijuana market" by December 31. Then lawmakers would have to go to work again to get that passed.

Buffalo Campaigners Call for Police to Deprioritize Marijuana Possession Arrests. A nonprofit group called Open Buffalo has begun a petition campaign to urge Mayor Byron Brown to tell the police department to deprioritize enforcement of marijuana possession laws. The group is close to its goal of 600 signatures; when it hits that goal, it will deliver the petition to the mayor.


US Sentencing Commission Proposes Stiffening Fentanyl Penalties. Last Friday, the Sentencing Commission announced it was proposing to increase penalties for fentanyl offenses by setting the offense level for fentanyl equal to the higher offense level currently assigned to fentanyl analogs. The commission is also proposing a sentencing guidelines enhancement for misrepresenting fentanyl or fentanyl analogs as another substance. The commission also proposed a class-based approach to synthetic cathinones and cannabinoids and established a single marijuana equivalency for each class. Public comment on the proposals is open until March 6, and the commission will hold public hearings in February and March. The commission is expected to vote on the proposals before May 1.

Chronicle AM: VT Governor Will Sign Legalization Bill, IL MedMJ at School Lawsuit, AZ Syringe Access Bill, More... (1/12/18)

Vermont is set to become the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana through the legislative process, New York gets a hearing on legalization, Arizona's legislature gets a Republican-sponsored syringe access bill, the parents of an Illinois child sue over access to medical marijuana at school, and more.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) says he will sign a marijuana legalization bill. (
Marijuana Policy

New York Hearing on Marijuana Legalization. The Assembly Health Committee took up the topic of marijuana legalization at a hearing Thursday. Committee Chair Assemblyman Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan) said he called the hearing because the state needed to take a serious look at its antiquated drug laws. The committee heard from medical professionals, nonprofit groups, and individuals, most of whom said the state would benefit from legalization. A representative of the State Sheriff's Association, though, worried about drugged driving and voiced concern that legal marijuana could add to the state's opioid epidemic, although he didn't say precisely how. [Ed: Multiple studies, including this recent one, have found that legal marijuana availability reduces opioid overdose deaths.]

Vermont Governor Says He Will Sign Legalization Bill. At a press conference Thursday, Gov. Phil Scott (R) said he plans to sign House Bill 511, which legalizes the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not sales. Scott said once he receives the bill from the legislature, his staff will review it to make sure it is "technically" correct. "Then I'll sign the bill," he said. Once he does, Vermont will become the first state to have legalized marijuana via the legislative process.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Parents Sue Over Medical Marijuana Access at School. The parents of an 11-year-old suffering from leukemia have sued the state and a suburban Chicago school district over a state law that bars her from taking her medicine at school. The medical marijuana law the state passed in 2014 prohibits the possession or use of marijuana on public school property. The family argues that provision of the law denies their child due process and violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The school district involved is School District 54 in Schaumburg.

Indiana Sees Bevy of CBD Bills, But Only a Restrictive One Gets a Hearing. Responding to an attorney general's opinion last November that restricted the use of CBD to epileptics on a state registry, lawmakers have filed a number of bills to ease access to the substance, but the only one yet set for a hearing, Senate Bill 294, would actually make access even more restrictive. That bill, filed by Sen. Michael Young (R-Indianapolis), would mandate bar-coded cards for people on the registry and limit sales to card holders.

Harm Reduction

Arizona Needle Exchange Bill Filed. Rep. Tony Rivero (D-Peoria) has filed a needle exchange bill, House Bill 2389. The bill would allow a city, town, or nonprofit organization to establish and operate "a needle and hypodermic syringe access program." The bill has not yet been assigned to a committee.


Portugal Moves Toward Legalizing Medical Marijuana. Portugal is on the cutting edge when it comes to drug reform, having decriminalized the possession of any drug in 2001, but it lags behind other European countries when it comes to medical marijuana. Perhaps for not much longer, though: The parliament has now begun considering a bill that would legalize medical marijuana, and it is debating a draft bill that allows for personal cultivation. But that provision could be excised from the final bill, as the bill's sponsor, the Left Bloc, ponders concessions to make it more palatable to other parties.

Chronicle AM: CA Licenses First Legal Marijuana Shops, US ODs at Record High, More... (12/15/17)

California starts rolling out recreational marijuana business licenses, Maryland approves more dispensaries, Michigan starts accepting dispensary applications, the Mexican Senate approves a bill letting the military keep playing a policing role, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Issues First Recreational Marijuana Business Licenses. The state's Bureau of Cannabis Control issued 20 retail marijuana business licenses Thursday, paving the way for consumers to buy legal weed at pot shops as early as January 1. On the list were medical and recreational adult use distributors, retailers, and "microbusinesses." Among first day retail licenses were KindPeoples in Santa Cruz, 530 Cannabis in Shasta Lake, and Torrey Holistics in San Diego.

Denver Arrests 12, Shutters 26 Marijuana Stores in Criminal Investigation. Police in Denver shut down 26 Sweet Leaf marijuana stores Thursday and arrested 12 people in an ongoing criminal investigation related to allegations the shops were selling larger amounts of marijuana than allowed under state law. The shops involved all received orders to close the business, the first time the city has issued an open-ended suspension to a legal pot business. The DEA was not involved.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Regulators Approve a Dozen More Dispensaries. The state's Medical Cannabis Commission has given the go-ahead for another 12 dispensaries to open their doors. The state currently has 10. Another 60 dispensaries that have received preliminary licenses are still awaiting final approval. The state has more than 10,000 registered patients and existing dispensaries have had a hard time keeping up with demand.

Michigan Starts Accepting Medical Marijuana Applications. The state's Medical Marihuana Licensing Board is now accepting applications for medical marijuana businesses under the new regime approved by the legislature earlier this year. Existing dispensaries will not have to shut down while their licenses are approved, a process that could take three or four months.

Drug Policy

Drug Overdose Deaths Continue to Rise. At least 66,324 people died of drug overdoses during the 12-month period ending in May 2017, up 17 percent from the 56,488 who died between May 2015 and May 2016, according to data released this week by the National Center for Health Statistics. Fentanyl and other synthetics overtook heroin as the leading killer, accounting for some 23,000 deaths compared to heroin's 15,525 and another 14,467 deaths from prescription opioids.


Mexico Senate Votes to Keep the Military in Police Role. Despite soaring violence and human rights abuses, the Mexican Senate voted early Friday to approve the "internal security law" even as protestors surrounded the Senate to decry the measure, which they say will militarize the country and harden a failed strategy of using soldiers to fight drug cartels. The bill now returns to the lower house, where passage is expected to be a formality. "We are concerned that the bill gives the armed forces a leadership and coordination role in certain circumstances, rather than limiting their role to aiding and assisting civilian authorities," said a statement issued by the UN high commissioner for human rights. "[It] does this in the absence of solid control mechanisms to ensure that operations are carried out with full respect for human rights." The proposal comes as Mexico suffers its most murderous year on record -- despite having the military involved in the fight against the cartels for the past 11 years.

Looking Back: The Biggest International Drug Policy Stories of the Past 20 Years [FEATURE]

With a thousand issues of Drug War Chronicle under our belts, we look back on the biggest international drug and drug policy stories of the past 20 years. (A companion piece looks at the biggest US domestic drug policy stories.) Here's what we find:

The 1998 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs. We've made some progress since then. (Creative Commons)
1. Global Prohibitionist Consensus Starts to Crumble

In 1998, the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), with anti-prohibitionist voices in the room but metaphorically on the outside, pledged itself to eradicating drugs in 10 years. That didn't happen. Now, nearly 20 years later, it is duly chastened, and the chorus of critics is much louder, but the UN still remains a painfully slow place to try to make change in global drug policy.

Yet, despite the foot-dragging in Vienna and New York, albeit at a glacial pace. The 2016 UNGASS couldn't bring itself to actually say the words "harm reduction," but acknowledged the practice in its documents. It couldn't bring itself to resolve to be against the death penalty in drug cases, but a large and growing number of member states spoke out against it. It couldn't officially acknowledge that there is "widespread recognition from several quarters, including UN member states and entities and civil society, of the collateral harms of current drug policies, and that new approaches are both urgent and necessary," even though that's what the UN Development Program said. And the UN admitted to having dropped the ball on making opioid analgesics available in the developing world.

It certainly wasn't ready to talk about drug legalization in any serious fashion. But despite the rigidity within the global anti-drug bureaucracy, driven in part by the hardline positions of many Asian and Middle Eastern member states, the global prohibitionist consensus is crumbling. Many European and Latin America states are ready for a new direction, and some aren't waiting for the UN's imprimatur. Bolivia has rejected the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs' provision criminalizing the coca plant, and Canada and Uruguay have both legalized marijuana with scant regard for UN treaty prohibitions. And of course there is Portugal's broad decriminalization system, encompassing all drugs.

There's a real lesson in all of this: The UN drug treaties, the legal backbone of global drug prohibition, have proven to be toothless. There is no effective mechanism for punishing most countries for violating those treaties, at least not relative to the punishing effects they suffer from prohibition. Other countries will take heed.

2. Afghanistan Remains the World's Opium Breadbasket

When the US invaded Afghanistan in late 2001, it entered into a seemingly endless war to defeat the Taliban and, along with it, the opium trade. Sixteen years and more than a trillion dollars later, it has defeated neither. Afghanistan was already the world's leading producer of opium then, and it still is.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, in 2000, the country produced more than 3,000 tons of opium. The following year, with the Taliban imposing a ban on poppy planting in return for US aid and international approval, production dropped to near zero. But in 2002, production was back to more than 3,000 tons, and Afghan poppy farmers haven't looked back since.

In the intervening years, Afghanistan has accounted for the vast majority of global opium production, reaching 90% in 2007 before plateauing to around 70% now (as production increases in Latin America). It has consistently produced at least 3,000 tons a year, with that amount doubling in selected years.

For years, US policymakers were caught in a dilemma, and drug war imperatives were subordinated to anti-Taliban imperatives. The problem was that any attempt to go after opium threatened to push peasants into the hands of the Taliban. Now, the Trump administration is bombing Taliban heroin facilities. But it hasn't bombed any heroin facilities linked to corrupt Afghan government officials.

Holland's famous cannabis cafes were the first break with global marijuana prohibition. (Creative Commons)
3. Movement Toward Acceptance of Recreational Marijuana

Twenty years ago, only the Netherlands had come to terms -- sort of -- with marijuana, formally keeping it illegal, but, in a prime example of the Dutch's policy of gedogen (pragmatic tolerance), with possession and sale of small amounts allowed. (The Dutch are only now finally dealing with the "backdoor problem," the question of where cannabis cafes are supposed to get their supplies if it can't be grown legally).

The first entities to legalize marijuana were the US states of Colorado and Washington in 2012, and Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize marijuana in 2014. Canada will become the second country to do so next year. In the meantime, six more US states and the District of Columbia have also jumped on the bandwagon.

While full legalization may yet be a bridge too far for most European and Latin American countries, marijuana decriminalization has really taken hold there, with numerous countries in both regions having embraced the policy. Marijuana has now been decriminalized in Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia (you can possess up to 22 grams legally), Costa Rica, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Equador, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Jamaica, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and Ukraine, among others. Oh, and Iran, too.

4. Andean Whack-A-Mole: The Fruitless Quest to Quash Cocaine

The United States, and to a much lesser degree, the European Union, have spent billions of dollars trying to suppress coca leaf cultivation and cocaine production in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. It hasn't worked.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), coca leaf cultivation was just under 500,000 acres in 1998; this week, UNODC reported that coca leaf cultivation was at 470,000 acres last year -- and that's not counting the 75,000 acres under legal cultivation in Bolivia.

When it comes to actual cocaine production, it's pretty much the same story: Again according to the UNODC, cocaine production was at 825 tons in 1998, peaked at just over a million tons a year in 2004-2007, and is now at just under 800 tons. There have been peaks and troughs, but here we are, pretty much in the same place we started.

Military intervention didn't stop it. Military and anti-drug assistance hasn't stopped it. Alternative development programs haven't stopped it. The global cocaine market is insatiable, and nothing has been able to tear Andean peasant farmers from what is by far their best cash crop. Bolivia, at least, has largely made peace with coca -- although not cocaine -- providing a legal, regulated market for coca farmers, but in Peru and Colombia eradication and redevelopment efforts continue to spark conflict and social unrest.

5. Mexico's Brutal Drug Wars

During the 1980s and 1990s, accusations ran rampant that in a sort of pax mafiosi, the Mexican government cut deals with leading drug trafficking groups to not so much fight the drug trade as manage it. Those were the days of single party rule by the PRI, which ended with the election of Vicente Fox in 2000. With the end of single party rule, the era of relative peace in the drug business began to unravel.

As old arrangements between drug traffickers and political and law enforcement figures fell apart, so did the informal codes that governed trafficker behavior. When once a cartel capo would accept his exemplary arrest, during the Fox administration, the gangsters began shooting back at the cops -- and fighting among themselves over who would control which profitable franchise.

Things took a turn for the worse with the election of Felipe Calderon in 2006 and his effort to burnish his political credentials by sending in the army to fight the increasingly wealthy, violent, and brazen cartels. And they haven't gotten any better since. While American attention to Mexico's drug wars peaked in 2012 -- a presidential election year in both countries -- and while the US has thrown more than a billion dollars in anti-drug aid Mexico's way in the past few years, the violence, lawlessness, and corruption continues. The death toll is now estimated to be around 200,000, and there's no sign anything is going to change anytime soon.

Well, unless we take leading 2018 presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) at his word. This week, AMLO suggested a potential amnesty for cartel leaders, indicating, for some, at least, a pax mafiosi is better than a huge, endless pile of corpses.

6. Latin America Breaks Away from US Drug War Hegemony

The US imports its drugs and exports its prohibition-related violence, and the region grows tired of paying the price for America's war on its favorite vices. When once Latin American leaders quietly kowtowed to drug war demands from Washington, at least some of them have been singing a different tune in recent years.

Bolivia under Evo Morales has resolutely followed its own path on legalizing coca cultivation, despite bellows from Washington, successive Mexican presidents weary of the bloodshed turn an increasingly critical eye toward US drug war imperatives, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos sees what Washington-imposed prohibitionist policies have done to his county and cries out for something different, and so did Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina before he was forced out of office on corruption charges.

Latin American countries are also increasingly pursuing their own drug policies, whether it's constitutionally protected legalization of personal use amounts of drugs in Colombia, decriminalization of marijuana across the continent, or downright legalization in Uruguay, Latin American leaders are no longer taking direction from Washington -- although they generally remain happy to take US anti-drug dollars.

A North American first: Vancouver's safe injection site opened in 2003. (Creative Commons)
7.Safe Injection Sites Start Spreading

The notion of providing a place where intravenous drug users could shoot up under medical supervision and get access to referrals to public health and welfare services was derided by foes as setting up "shooting galleries" and enabling drug use, but safe injection sites have proven to be an effective intervention, linked to reduced overdoses, reduced crime, and moving drug users toward treatment.

These examples of harm reduction in practice first appeared in Switzerland in the late 1980s; with facilities popping up in Germany and the Netherlands in the 1990s; Australia, Canada, Luxembourg, Norway, and Spain in the 2000s; and, most recently, Denmark and France.

By now, there are nearly a hundred safe injection sites operating in at least 61 cities worldwide, including 30 in Holland, 16 in Germany, and eight in Switzerland. We are likely to see safe injection sites in Ireland and Scotland very soon.

It looks like they will soon be appearing in the United States, too. Officials in at least two cities, San Francisco and Seattle, are well on the way to approving them, although the posture of the federal government could prove an obstacle.

8. And Heroin Maintenance, Too

Even more forward looking as a harm reduction measure than safe injection sites, heroin maintenance (or opiate-assisted treatment) has expanded slowly, but steadily over the past two decades. The Swiss did the first trials in 1994, and now such programs are available there (after decisively winning a 2008 referendum on the issue), as well as Germany and the Netherlands.

Such programs have been found to reduce harm by helping users control their drug use, reducing overdoses, reducing drug-related disease, and promoting overall health and well-being, while also reducing social harms by reducing crime related to scoring drugs, reducing public use and drug markets, and promoting less chaotic lifestyles among participants, leading to increased social integration and better family life and employment prospects.

A Canadian pilot program, the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI) produced similar results. Maybe the United States will be ready to get it a try one of these years.

9. New Drugs, New Markets

So far, this has been the century of new drugs. Known variously as "research chemicals," "designer drugs," or fake this and that, let's call them new psychoactive substances (NSPs). Whether it's synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones, synthetic benzodiazepines, synthetic opioids, or something entirely novel, someone somewhere is producing it and selling it.

In its 2017 annual review, the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Addictions (EMCDDA) reported in was monitoring 620 NSPs, up from 350 in 2013, and was adding new ones at the rate of over one a week.

These drugs, often of unknown quality or potency, in some cases have wreaked havoc among drug users around the world and are a prime example of the bad things that can happen when you try to suppress some drugs: You end up with worse ones.

The communications technology revolution that began with the world wide web impacts drug policy just as it impact everything else. Beginning with the infamous Silk Road drug sales website, the dark web and the Tor browser have enabled drug sellers and consumers to hook up anonymously online, with the drugs delivered to one's doorstep by Fedex, UPS, and the like.

Silk Road has been taken down and its proprietor, Ross Ulbricht, jailed for decades in the US, but as soon as Silk Road was down, new sites popped up. They got taken down, and again, new sites popped up. Rinse and repeat.

European authorities estimate the size of the dark web drug marketplace at about $200 million a year -- a fraction of the size of the overall trade -- but warn that it is growing rapidly. And why not? It's like an Amazon for drugs.

10.Massacring Drug Suspects in Southeast Asia

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has drawn international condemnation for the bloody war he unleashed on drug suspects upon taking office last year. Coming from a man who made his reputation for leading death squads while Mayor of Davao City, the wave of killings is shocking, but not surprising. The latest estimates are that some 12,000 people have been killed.

What's worse is that Duterte's bad example seems to be gaining some traction in the neighborhood. Human rights groups have pointed to a smaller wave of killings in Indonesia, along with various statements from Indonesian officials expressing support for Duterte-style drug executions. And most recently, a Malaysian member of parliament urged his own country to emulate Duterte's brutal crackdown.

This isn't the first time Southeast Asia has been the scene of murderous drug war brutality. Back in 2003, then Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra launched a war on drugs that saw 2,800 killed in three months.

Chronicle AM: Sessions Hints at Marijuana Enforcement Changes, ND Legalization Init Filed, More... (11/29/17)

The attorney general hints at changes in federal marijuana enforcement policy, Sen. Elizabeth Warren challenges Trump's HHS nominee on medical marijuana and opioids, North Dakota activists file a legalization initiative, and more.

The attorney general is making news on both the marijuana and the opioid fronts. (
Marijuana Policy

Sessions Hints at Changes in Federal Marijuana Enforcement. At a press conference Wednesday on new measures to address opioid use, Attorney General Jeff Sessions signaled that the Justice Department's laissez-faire approach to marijuana in states where it is legal may soon be changing. Justice is looking "very hard right now" at the Cole memo, an Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors that told them to generally make enforcement a low priority in legalization or medical states, Sessions said. "We had meetings yesterday and talked about it at some length. It's my view that the use of marijuana is detrimental, and we should not give encouragement in any way to it, and it represents a federal violation, which is in the law and it's subject to being enforced, and our priorities will have to be focused on all the things and challenges we face," he said. "We'll be working our way through to a rational policy. But I don't want to suggest in any way that this department believes that marijuana is harmless and people should not avoid it."

Connecticut Gubernatorial Candidates Support Legalization. In the first debate of the 2018 gubernatorial campaign Tuesday night, several candidates said they supported marijuana legalization, a step current Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) has been unwilling to take. "Yes, I will sign a bill to legalize it,'' said Democrat Dan Drew. "There are an awful lot of people who use cannabis for a variety of reasons… wouldn't it be better if we control the process on the front end, if we were able to regulate it?" Another Democrat, former consumer protection commissioner Jonathan Harris also said he supports marijuana legalization. Only Republican candidate Prasad Srinivasan quailed at the prospect, saying he had concerns about public safety and public health.

North Dakota Activists File Legalization Initiative. Grand Forks resident David Own delivered a proposed petition to begin an initiative campaign to legalize marijuana to the secretary of state's office on Tuesday. The petition calls for the "full legalization" of marijuana and expungement of records for any crime that would be legalized by the measure. If approved for signature gathering, the initiative will need some 13,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.

San Francisco Approves Legal Marijuana Regs; Sales to Begin January 5. The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to approve regulations for recreational marijuana sales and set January 5 as the date when legal sales could begin. Supervisors voted for a 600-feet buffer between stores and schools -- much less than what some members of the Chinese immigrant community had lobbied for -- and rejected provisions that would have let neighborhoods limit the number of pot shops or ban them outright.

Medical Marijuana

Elizabeth Warren Wants Marijuana Answers From Trump Health Nominee. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has sent a letter to Alex Azar, President Trump's nominee to lead the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) suggesting the administration study how marijuana legalization could reduce opioid addiction and overdose deaths. The letter also asks Azar to answer questions about what he would do to study marijuana as an alternative to opioids, whether he is committed to implementing evidence-based policies, and what steps he would take to "improve our knowledge of the potential therapeutic benefits of marijuana when used for medical purposes."

Iowa Announces First and Only License for Medical Marijuana Manufacturer. The Department of Public Health announced Tuesday it will issue a CBD manufacturing license to MedPharm Iowa. That is the first license to grow marijuana and create CBD products in the state and the only one that will be issued.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA to Open First New Field Office in 20 Years to Fight Epidemic. At a press conference Wednesday addressing the opioid crisis, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the DEA will open a new field office in Louisville, its first new field office in two decades. Sessions also announced new federal grants totaling $12 million to fund anti-heroin task forces and said that all 94 US attorneys across the country would name officials to coordinate opioid enforcement operations in their areas.

(This article was prepared by's lobbying arm, 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.)

Drug-Induced Homicide Charges Draconian and Ineffective, Study Finds [FEATURE]

A new report from the Drug Policy Alliance shines a harsh spotlight on a strategy that some police, prosecutors, and elected officials are embracing in response to the opioid overdose crisis -- charging sellers with drug-induced homicide -- which the evidence suggests is intensifying, rather than helping, the problem.

James Linder, 28 years for drug induced homicide. (DPA)
The opioid overdose crisis is real enough -- a record of more than 60,000 people died of drug overdoses last year, most of them from opioids -- but claims that charging drug sellers with murder is an effective deterrent are unproven, according to the report, An Overdose Death Is Not Murder: Why Drug-Induced Homicide Laws Are Counterproductive and Inhumane.

Instead, such laws actually deter people not from selling drugs but from seeking life-saving medical assistance in case of overdose. That's because drug-induced homicide prosecutions typically don't target high-level "kingpins," but zero in on the very people best positioned to actually save lives in the event of an overdose: family, friends, and low-level drug sellers, often addicts themselves.

Like Amy Shemberger. In August 2014, she took a ride to score some heroin for herself and her boyfriend, Peter Kucinski. She snorted one bag on the way home and gave the other to Peter when she got home. Suffering from severe alcohol withdrawal, he needed the heroin to feel better. He snorted a $10 bag, then stopped breathing. Amy called 911, but it was too late, and her boyfriend of 18 years was gone -- and then so was their 5-year-old son, taken into custody by child protective services.

Two months later, Amy was charged with drug-induced homicide for sharing her score with her life partner. She's now serving seven years in state prison.

Amy Shemberger is not an outlier. Police and prosecutors routinely abuse their discretion by going after the people best positioned to actually save the lives of overdose victims -- their friends, family members, fellow drug users, and small-time drug sellers. The report offers several examples: In New Jersey, 25 of 32 drug-induced homicide prosecutions in the 2000s targeted friends of the victims who were not involved in significant drug sales. In Wisconsin, 90% of the most recent cases targeted friends or relatives of the victim. In Illinois, a study of these prosecutions found that prosecutors typically charged the last person known to be with the victim.

And, as with everything else in the war on drugs, it's worse if you're not white. Hampered by a felony record, when James Linder, 36, lost his job at a bakery, he resorted to selling small amounts of drugs, making enough money to get a haircut for his son and to help out his sister. But in January 2015, he sold three packets of heroin to Cody Hillier. Hillier's girlfriend, Danielle Barzyk died of an overdose later that same day. Despite never even metting Barzyk, Linder was charged with drug-induced homicide in her death. He was sentenced by an all-white jury in rural Illinois. Unlike Shemberger, he didn't get seven years; he got 28 years in prison.

Linder and Schemberger are by no means alone. Drug-induced homicide laws, originally passed in the depths of 1980s drug war excess, lay largely dormant until rising drug overdose numbers led police and prosecutors to revive them. Currently 20 states -- Delaware, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming -- have drug-induced homicide laws on the books. Other states without such laws also manage to charge these people with the offense of drug delivery resulting in death under various felony-murder, depraved heart, or involuntary or voluntary manslaughter laws.

"This is a wasteful, punitive policy that compounds the tragedy of an overdose by locking up even more people in the name of the failing war on drugs," said Lindsay LaSalle, senior staff attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance and author of the report. "By placing the blame for an overdose death on the single person who supplied the drugs, all the structural factors that lead to addiction and overdose are ignored, as are the solutions that could actually make a difference. While there's no evidence in support of the effectiveness of drug-induced homicide laws, the good news is that there are proven health and harm reduction interventions that can save lives."

Those include policies and practices such as 911 Good Samaritan laws, which protect people reporting drug overdoses from arrest; expanded access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan), expanded access to opioid-assisted treatment, and expansion of harm reduction programs such as supervised drug injection sites, where users can shoot up under medical supervision and be connected with social service agencies.

There is no national database of drug-induced homicide prosecutions, so the Drug Policy Alliance report relied on media mentions of such cases to chart their spread. It found 363 articles mentioning such cases in 2011, but by 2016, that number had jumped to 1,178, a 300% increase in just five years. And this without any evidence of their effectiveness in reducing drug use or sales or preventing overdose deaths.

The resort to drug-induced homicide charges varies from state to state. Midwestern states such as Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, and Minnesota have been the most aggressive in prosecuting drug-induced homicides, with northeastern states Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York and southern states Louisiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee rapidly expanding their use of these laws. And the move remains politically popular: This year alone, elected officials in at least 13 states -- Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia -- introduced bills to create new drug-induced homicide offenses or strengthen existing drug-induced homicide laws.

But the increased criminalization of people who use and sell drugs only exacerbates the very problem prosecutors are supposedly trying to address. It increases stigma, drives people away from needed care, and will likely result in the same racial disparities now synonymous with other drug war tactics.

"This is no time to ratchet up enforcement responses to addiction and overdose -- we can't afford to repeat the mistakes of the past," warned LaSalle. "Overdose deaths are skyrocketing and it could be your loved one who dies from a preventable drug overdose, simply because someone was too scared to call 911."

Chronicle AM: ME MedMJ Crackdown, Duterte Faces Heat Over Human Rights Abuses, More... (11/10/17)

The DEA will enact an emergency ban on fentanyl analogs, Maine officials try to tighten up the medical marijuana market, NGOs and individuals target Filipino President Duterte ahead of the ASEAN Summit, and more.

Filipino President Duterte remains defiant in the face of rising calls for an investigation into human rights abuses. (Wikimedia
Marijuana Policy

North Dakotans Gear Up for Legalization Initiative Campaign. Coming off a successful medical marijuana initiative campaign last year, state activists are eyeing a full-blown legalization initiative for 2018. The Recreational Marijuana/Expungement initiative campaign is expected to file with the secretary of state's office next week. If approved there, the measure could then move on to the signature gathering phase.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Georgia College poll has support for medical marijuana at 77%, up 13 points from the same poll two years ago. Rep. Allan Peake (R-Macon) has been pushing for medical marijuana for several years; this poll should give a boost to his efforts in 2018.

Maine Cracks Down on Medical Marijuana. The state Health Department issued new rules Wednesday that tighten the state's medical marijuana market. Under the new rules, authorities can conduct surprise inspections of grows, and the department is implementing a new patient tracking system. The changes will go into effect on February 1.

Industrial Hemp

Wisconsin Senate Passes Hemp Bill. The Senate has unanimously approved a measure that would legalize the production and cultivation of industrial hemp. The bill would create a system of state licenses for farmers to legally grow hemp. The measure now goes to the Assembly, which is also expected to pass the bill.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Will Enact Emergency Ban on Fentanyl Analogs.The Department of Justice Thursday announced that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) intends to take immediate action against the flow of illicit fentanyl analogues into this country and the alarming increase in overdose deaths linked to synthetic opioids by scheduling all fentanyl-related substances on an emergency basis. When the DEA's order takes effect, anyone who possesses, imports, distributes, or manufactures any illicit fentanyl analogue will be subject to criminal prosecution in the same manner as for fentanyl and other controlled substances. The action announced Thursday will make it easier for federal prosecutors and agents to prosecute traffickers of all forms of fentanyl-related substances.


On Eve of ASEAN Summit, Hundreds of Groups Call for UN Probe of Philippines Drug War Killings. More than 280 nongovernmental organizations and individuals have renewed calls for a UN-led investigation into the thousands of deaths linked to the Philippines drug war as the country prepares to host the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit this weekend. They all signed onto a statement coordinated by executive director David Borden and "organized by a coalition including the leading human rights organizations in the Philippines, Filipino-American advocacy groups, drug policy reform, recovery, (and) HIV/AIDS groups," among others. The move came after President Duterte again insisted he would brook no criticism of his human rights record, warning that he would tell US President Trump to "lay off" if he brought up the issue. But Trump has given no indication he has any concerns about human rights abuses in the Philippines.

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Drug Testing

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

Harm Reduction

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

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


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

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