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Chronicle AM: No Cannabis Lounges for Oregon This Year; Drug Eradication Clashes in Peru, Mexico, More... (4/15/19)

A set of Michigan bills would do some post-legalization cleanup, a decriminalization bill advances in Missouri, an Oklahoma bill protecting patient rights is signed by the governor, drug crop growers clash with authorities in Mexico and Peru, and more.

Peruvian coca farmers clashed with police and eradicators last Friday, leaving two dead. (deamuseum.org)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Bills Would Cut Sentences for People Jailed for Possession. State Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) has filed a package of bills that would reduce prison, parole, and probation sentences for people jailed for marijuana possession. SB 262 through SB 265 are now before the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. "After the passage of Proposal 1, it's time we rethink drug sentencing laws in Michigan, so let's start with marijuana offenses, since those are no longer considered crimes under current law," Santana said.

Missouri Decriminalization Bill Advances. The House Special Committee on Criminal Justice last Thursday unanimously approved HB 1095, which would decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana. The measure would also make possession of less than 35 grams from a felony to a Class D misdemeanor. The measure now heads for a House floor vote.

Oregon Social Consumption Bill Dies. A bill that would have allowed marijuana consumption lounges, SB 639, was among hundreds of bills that died in the legislature after failing to move out of committee by April 9. The bill's failure is a blow to the state's legal marijuana industry, which is faced with chronic oversupply.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Governor Signs Patient Protection Bill. Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) has signed into law HB 2612, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act. The measure protects patients' rights to possess firearms under state law and allows the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority to hire its own investigators to probe alleged violations. The law will go into effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns, which will be at the end of May.

Washington Senate Approves Allowing Medical Marijuana in School. The state Senate on Saturday overwhelmingly approved SB 5442, which would allow parents to administer medical marijuana to their children at school, on the school bus, and at after-school activities. The bill limits the kind of marijuana used to infused products and extracts.

International

Mexico Poppy Farmers Detain Soldiers in Eradication Protest. Residents of a rural town in Guerrero state said they detained 40 soldiers last week to demand they halt opium poppy eradication efforts. The farmers said they set up roadblocks to prevent soldiers from leaving the region and called on the state and federal governments to provide assistance to local farmers so they aren't forced to grow opium. The farmers said the state government had promised in November that their poppy crops would not be destroyed and alternative means of support would be provided, but neither happened.

Peru Clashes Over Coca Eradication Leave Two Farmers Dead. Two coca growers were killed in clashes with a large eradication team last Friday. The team, which consisted of 72 police officers and158 civilian eradicators, had arrived in the area near the Bolivian border to destroy illegal coca fields, but reported that they were attacked by people wielding machetes and sticks as they set up camp. But the mayor of the town of San Gaban said witnesses told him police fired indiscriminately. "They were shooting right and left. That's why we have this bloodshed," the mayor said.

The War on Cocaine Only Strengthens Drug Cartels, Study Finds [FEATURE]

If you've spent nearly a half-century and $250 billion trying to stop the flow of cocaine into the US and the white powder is now cheaper and more plentiful than ever, maybe it's time to rethink. That's the implicit lesson lurking behind a new study on the impact of drug interdiction efforts on drug trafficking organizations.

cocaine interdicted by US Customs (dhs.gov)
Interdiction is the supply side approach to reducing drug use. Rather than reducing demand through education, prevention, and treatment, interdiction seeks to reduce the supply of drugs available domestically by blocking them en route to the US or at the border.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and conducted by scientists from a half-dozen American universities, the study relied on a computer model called NarcoLogic that shows how drug traffickers respond to interdiction strategies and tactics. More sophisticated than previous attempts to simulate the drug trade, NarcoLogic models local- and network-level trafficking dynamics at the same time.

"Our team consists of researchers who worked in different parts of Central America during the 2000s and witnessed a massive surge of drugs into the region that coincided with a reinvigoration of the war on drugs," David Wrathall of Oregon State University's College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences said in a press release announcing the research results. "We asked ourselves: did drug interdiction push drug traffickers into these places?"

The short answer is yes, and that has implications that go far beyond drug policy. The Central American migrants who are at the center of the current "border crisis" are fleeing not only poverty but also high levels of violence generated by the movement of Mexican drug trafficking groups into the region a decade ago as they faced increasing interdiction efforts at home and from US authorities.

In fact, although it is not addressed in this new research, it was earlier interdiction efforts aimed at Colombian cocaine trafficking groups in the 1980s that led directly to the transformation of formerly small-scale Mexican cross-border smuggling organizations into the Frankenstein's monster of drug prohibition that the cartels are today. With the Colombians under intense pressure, Mexican traffickers rose to the occasion and have been making billions of dollars a year ever since.

This despite five decades of US interdiction efforts with an average annual expenditure of $5 billion. Instead of curbing the flow of cocaine into the United States, all that has been accomplished is making the drug trafficking operations more widespread and harder to eradicate. Putting pressure on one route or location simply leads traffickers to scatter and regroup. This is the "balloon effect," where suppressing traffic or production in one area prompts it to pop up elsewhere, and the "cockroach effect," where traffickers simply decentralize their operations.

"Between 1996 and 2017, the Western Hemisphere transit zone grew from 2 million to 7 million square miles, making it more difficult and costly for law enforcement to track and disrupt trafficking networks," Wrathall said. "But as trafficking spread, it triggered a host of smuggling-related collateral damages: violence, corruption, proliferation of weapons, and extensive and rapid environmental destruction."

And for all that effort, the impact on cocaine price and availability has been negligible -- or even perverse.

"Wholesale cocaine prices in the United States have actually dropped significantly since 1980, deaths from cocaine overdose are rising, and counterdrug forces intercept cocaine shipments at a low rate. More cocaine entered the United States in 2015 than in any other year," Wrathall said. "And one thing people who support interdiction and those who don't can agree on is that change is needed. This model can help determine what that change should look like."

The main takeaway from the study is not that drug trafficking became more widespread and resilient because of ineffective interdiction efforts, but because of interdiction itself. The policy aimed at suppressing the drug trade has only made it stronger and wealthier.

"The study is a victory for observation and theory. This model successfully recreates the dynamic our team had observed," Wrathall said. "It tells us that increased interdiction will continue to push traffickers into new areas, spreading networks, and allowing them to continue to move drugs north."

Maybe it is time to try something different.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Trump's Bombing Campaign Against Taliban Heroin Labs Quietly Fizzles [FEATURE]

A year-long bombing campaign that pitted some of America's most high-tech Air Force fighter jets against primitive Taliban "heroin labs" has quietly ended after failing to achieve much of anything, according to the latest report on continuing US operations in Afghanistan from the Defense Department's inspector general.

The campaign, dubbed Operation Iron Tempest, was only the latest iteration of America's endless and fruitless effort to suppress the country's opium economy, which has delivered hundreds of millions of dollars a year into the hands of the Taliban and corrupt Afghan officials alike. Since the U.S. invaded in 2001, American taxpayers have forked out nearly $9 billion to fight Afghan opium, yet Afghanistan continues to produce the vast majority -- about 85 percent -- of the global opium supply.

Despite all those counter-narcotics dollars, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported opium production at record highs in the last years, with more than 6,400 tons of raw opium produced last year. Iron Tempest didn't make much of a dent in it.

As part of the Trump administration's bid to look tough against both drugs and the Taliban, Iron Tempest was unleashed in November 2017 with F-22 stealth fighters and B-52 strategic bombers deploying 250- and 500-pound bombs against nondescript buildings in the Afghan hinterlands. Those F-22s, designed to be deployed against the most advanced aircraft in the world, cost $35,000 per flight hour, and they were used to blow up the barrels, tubes, and piles of raw material that constitute Afghan "heroin labs."

But hundreds of air strikes against what U.S. commanders estimated were 500 "heroin labs" operated by the Taliban failed to put a serious dent in the trade. In fact, they probably hurt Afghan security and political figures involved in the opium trade more than they hurt the Taliban.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported in January that while the air strikes had deprived the Taliban of an estimated $42 million (out of its estimated annual take from the opium trade of $200 million), while unspecified others "involved in the illegal drug trade in Afghanistan" lost $200 million. (The estimated value of the opium crop alone is above $1 billion a year when prices are high; but additional profits come from taxes on the trade and the value added by processing the raw opium into more profitable heroin.)

But the numbers on the economic pain caused the Taliban are iffy, SIGAR conceded. It was difficult to weigh the actual financial impact because "no ground verification takes place to weigh and assess the amounts of the precursors or products actually destroyed by an airstrike."

SIGAR didn't mince words in its assessment of overall Afghan and U.S. counter-narcotics performance: "To put it bluntly," the watchdog said, "these numbers spell failure."

That same January SIGAR report quietly noted the end of Iron Tempest. As evidence mounted that the campaign was ineffective, the number of air raids dwindled. In the last three months of 2018, only two air strikes took place, marking the end of the campaign. Operation Iron Tempest had gone out not with a bang, but with a whimper.

That could be the epitaph for the entire American adventure in Afghanistan. After nearly two decades of invasion and occupation, Trump administration officials are now engaged in direct peace talks with the Taliban that could lead to Afghan coalition government including the Taliban and the final withdrawal of American forces.

Chronicle AM: FL Bill Would End Mandatory Minimums, BC Plan for Heroin Buyers Clubs, More... (2/22/19)

The Philippines president vows even harsher drug war, the Mexican Senate approves a new national guard to fight drug crime, a Florida bill would end mandatory minimum drug sentences, and more.

Pharmaceutical heroin. Could it be coming to heroin buyers clubs in Vancouver? (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Regulatory Bill Advances. The House Rules Committee voted Thursday to advance HB 2612, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act. The bill sets up an extensive medical marijuana framework and is moving with bipartisan support.

Asset Forfeiture

Missouri Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture Advances. The House Judiciary Committee has approved  HB 444, which would bar law enforcement from confiscating assets from someone unless and until that person is convicted of a criminal offense. The bill now heads to the House floor.

Sentencing

Florida Criminal Justice Reform Bill Would End Mandatory Minimums. A sweeping criminal justice reform bill that includes ending mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses has been introduced in the Senate. SB 642, the Florida First Step Act must get past the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Criminal Justice Committee before heading for a Senate floor vote.

International

British Columbia Plan for "Heroin Buyers Club" Unveiled. The BC Center of Substance Abuse Thursday unveiled a plan to create a heroin buyers club to sell pure, regulated heroin to people addicted to opioids.  The cooperative group would buy bulk medical grade heroin from Switzerland to sell to doctor-assessed club members. The plan is part of the effort to stem overdoses in Vancouver. Informal heroin buyers clubs are reportedly already operating in the city, but their supplies are iffy.

Mexican Senate Approves Plan for New National Guard to Fight Crime, Drugs. The Senate on Thursday approved President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s plan to create a new national guard, a key part of the government’s strategy to address drug gang violence. But the Senate amended the legislation to ensure that the new security force is headed by civilians, not the military, which has been linked to numerous human rights violations.

Philippines President Vows "Harsher" Drug War in Coming Days. President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to ramp up his bloody anti-drug campaign in a speech Wednesday. The war on drugs will be "harsher in the days to come," he said. When asked by reporters if the crackdown would be even bloodier, he said: "I think so." The remarks were condemned by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights: "With thousands that have already been killed because of this campaign, ‘harsh’ is an understatement and a trivialization of the lives that were lost—it is irreversible and the suffering of families of victims can be lifelong," Jacqueline De Guia, CHR spokesperson, said. "To say that it will be ‘harsher’ insults the victims and their families while the drug trade has not seemingly waned."

Thai King Signs Decree Legalizing Medical Marijuana and Kratom. Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn has signed a royal decree formalizing the legalization of medical marijuana and kratom. The move comes some two months after the military government’s parliament unanimously approved it. 

Chronicle AM: FBI to Investigate Fatal Houston Drug Raid, NH Legal Pot Bill Advances, More... (2/21/19)

The fallout from that fatal January Houston drug raid continues, a New Hampshire pot legalization bill advances, so does a Florida bill to allow smokable medical marijuana, and more.

This could be legal soon in New Hampshire if that marijuana legalization bill keeps moving. (IRIN)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Governor Uses Budget Address to Call for Legalization. As he unveiled his first annual budget Wednesday, Gov. J,B. Pritzker called for marijuana legalization and taxation to help pay for $1.1 billion in new spending. He also called for the legalization and taxation of sports betting, as well as raising money with new taxes on plastic bags, e-cigs, and raising the cigarette tax.

New Hampshire Legalization Bill Narrowly Wins House Committee Vote. The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 10-9 to recommend passage of HB 481, which would legalize up to an ounce for adults and create a system of taxed and regulated sales. Adults could also grow up to six plants. The narrow margin of victory in committee suggests a tough fight to pass it on the House floor.

North Dakota Decriminalization Bill Narrowly Defeated. A bill that would have decriminalized the possession of up to ounce was defeated on a 47-43 vote in the House Wednesday. HB 1155’s defeat means legalization proponents in the state will gear up for a legalization initiative next year.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona House Committee Approves Bill to Protect Edibles, Extracts. The House Committee on Public Safety voted 5-2 Wednesday to approve HB 2149. The measure would specify that the 2010 voter-approved medical marijuana law also includes any products made from its resins. In a case pending before state courts, the state has argued that edibles and hashish are not included in the law.

Florida Bill to Allow Smokable Medical Marijuana Heads for Senate Floor Vote. The Senate Rules Committee voted Wednesday to approve SB 182, which would end the state’s ban on smokable medical marijuana. That means the measure will head for a Senate floor vote weeks ahead of a March 15 deadline set by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has threatened litigation if the legislature doesn’t act.

Michigan Appeals Court Rules Against Worker Not Hired for Medical Marijuana Use. The state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday against a woman who had a job offer rescinded because she tested positive for marijuana—even though she had a medical marijuana card. The ruling is a boon for employers who apply zero-tolerance substance abuse policies.

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota House Approves Civil Asset Forfeiture Bill. The House on Wednesday approved a civil asset forfeiture reform bill on a 57-33 vote. HB 1286 would not end civil asset forfeiture, but would raise the standard of proof from "a preponderance" of the evidence to "clear and compelling evidence." It would also require a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture could proceed. The bill now goes to the Senate, which defeated similar legislation in 2017.

Law Enforcement

Two House Republicans Urge State Department to Label Cartels as Terrorist Organizations. A pair of conservative House Republicans, Reps. Mark Green (TN) and Chip Roy (TX), sent a letter Wednesday to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking the State Department to label drug cartels as terrorist organizations. The proposal would "further stigmatize these groups both at home and abroad," the pair wrote. "These cartels have utilized barbaric tactics including those adopted by [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] ISIS and al Qaeda – murdering and torturing innocents, destabilizing countries and assassinating members of law enforcement," Green added in a statement. Drug cartels differ from terrorist organizations, though, in that they have no political agenda (other than being left alone to go about their business), a key component of the definition of terrorism.

FBI Opens Civil Rights Investigation into Deadly Houston Drug Raid. The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into a January drug raid in Houston that left two people dead and five police officers wounded. The raid was based on falsified search warrant affidavits claiming informants had bought heroin at the house, but the homeowners, who were killed, possessed no heroin at all—only small, personal use amounts of marijuana and possibly cocaine. The fallout from the case has already resulted in one officer being suspended, an end to no-knock raids in the city, and the review of more than 1,400 cases linked to the lying officer. 

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Slaps Down Asset Forfeiture, No More No-Knocks in Houston, More... (2/20/19)

The Supreme Court reins in civil asset forfeiture, Denver joins cities participating in LEAD, Houston ends undercover no-knock raids in the wake of a fatal encounter, and more.

The US Supreme Court (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland General Assembly Creates Legalization Working Group. In a sign that marijuana legalization isn’t going to happen this year, the General Assembly has created a working group to study the issue. The bipartisan group will make recommendations in December that could be used to help guide bills during the 2020 legislative session.

South Carolina Poll Has Half Supporting Medical Marijuana, Nearly a Quarter for Legalization. A new poll from political strategist Robert Cahaly has support for marijuana legalization at 22.8%, with another 49.7% saying they supported legalizing marijuana "for people suffering illness and with a doctor’s approval."

Hemp

Ohio Hemp Bill Filed. Lawmakers have filed a bill to legalize hemp production in the state, SB 77. The bill would align state law with the framework of the 2018 farm bill, which legalized hemp nationwide.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Senate Passes Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana in Schools. A bill that allows medical marijuana to be given to students at public schools passed the Senate on Monday. SB 204 now heads to the House Human Services Committee.

Asset Forfeiture

U.S. Supreme Court Unanimously Reins in Civil Asset Forfeiture. In a victory for proponents of civil asset forfeiture reform, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in Timbs v. Indiana that the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause applies to states, thereby prohibiting state and local governments from collecting excessive fines, fees and forfeitures. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion. "The protection against excessive fines guards against abuses of government’s punitive or criminal law-enforcement authority," Ginsburg wrote. 

Law Enforcement

Denver Signs on to Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. City officials unveiled a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) pilot program on Tuesday. The program is designed to connect people accused of low-level drug crimes with support services rather than arresting them. LEAD programs operate in a number of other cities, including Philadelphia, Portland, and Seattle. The pilot program is funded through 2020 by a $561,000 grant paid for out of the state's marijuana tax cash fund.

Houston Ends No-Knock Raids in Wake of Fatal Encounter. With few exceptions, Houston undercover officers will no longer conduct no-knock raids. The move comes after four police officers were wounded and a Houston couple killed in a raid that was based on a police officer's lies. "The no-knock warrants are going to go away like leaded gasoline in this city," Chief Art Acevedo announced during a town hall meeting Monday. 

Chronicle AM: VT Legal Pot Sales Bill Advances, ID Gov. Signs Naloxone Access Bill, More... (2/15/19)

A marijuana sales bill is moving in Vermont, a bill to have state-run pot shops is filed in New Mexico, Idaho's governor signs a naloxone access expansion bill, the Sinaloa Cartel lives, and more.

Even in Idaho, there's a need for naloxone. Now, access to the opioid overdose reversal drug is expanded. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Legal Marijuana Sales Bill Advances. A bill that would set up a system of taxed and regulated legal marijuana commerce in the state has passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 4-1 vote. SB 54  would establish a Cannabis Control Board to issue licenses for cannabis manufacturers, retailers and testing facilities. Sales would be taxed at 10 percent, and local municipalities would have the option of imposing an additional two percent tax. The bill now heads to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, which must approve it before it goes to the Senate floor.

New Mexico GOP Senator's Marijuana Legalization Bill Would Feature State-Run Pot Shops. Sen. Mark Moores (R-Albuquerque) and three cosponsors filed SB 577 Thursday. Like another bill already filed, the measure would legalize marijuana in the state but would have the state operate retail marijuana shops. The measure is currently before the Senate Public Affairs Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Bill Would Let Dispensaries Sell CBD Cannabis Oil. A bill filed Thursday would fix the state's CBD cannabis oil law so that patients could actually obtain the drug. Under current state law, patients can use and possess it, but have no legal means of obtaining it. HB 324 would allow for the sale of CBD cannabis oil to patients through dispensaries.  

Missouri Expungement Bill for Patients Advances. A bill that would let registered medical marijuana patients have their misdemeanor marijuana offenses expunged has been approved by the House Committee on Criminal Justice in a 7-2 vote. The measure, HB 341, has support in both chambers of the legislature and it is believed Gov. Mike Parsons (R) would sign it.

Harm Reduction

Idaho Governor Signs Expansive Naloxone Access Bill into Law. Gov. Brad Little (R) has signed into law HB 12, which expands access to the opioid overdose reversal drug in the state. It will go into effect on July 1.

International

El Chapo May Be Gone, But the Sinaloa Cartel Carries On. Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman may be buried deep in the federal prison system, but the Sinaloa Cartel is still in business—and business is booming. The cartel, now under the leadership of second-in-command Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, continues to make massive drug shipments to the US, as recent huge, multi-drug busts at the border attest. "It’s still a major, major force in the Mexican criminal underworld," Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope said. It still controls worldwide contacts that can ship Colombian cocaine around the world and import precursor drugs into Mexico to be cooked up and exported north. Zambada has overcome a succession fight after El Chapo's arrest and is now firmly in control. 

Chronicle AM: William Barr Confirmed as US AG, Congressional Marijuana Banking Hearing, More... (2/14/19)

The Senate has confirmed old drug warrior William Barr as attorney general, Congress holds a hearing on marijuana and banking, Ted Cruz wants El Chapo to pay for the wall, and more.

CA Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is sending the National Guard after what are likely mythical cartel pot grows. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Congress Urged to Open Banks to Marijuana Industry. At a House hearing Wednesday, bank officers and state officials urged Congress to fully open the US banking system to the legal marijuana industry. California Treasurer Fiona Ma said allowing access to banking was a critical step for the growth of the fledgling legal industry, while Gregory Deckard, speaking for the Independent Community Banks of America, said allowing financial access was a critical step.

California Governor Vows Crackdown on Illegal Pot Grows, Blames Cartels. In his State of the State address Tuesday night, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) vowed to crack down on cartel-grown black market marijuana, even though it's not clear how great a role the Mexican drug gangs have in the state's huge illicit pot market. Newsom said he would pull state National Guard troops from the Mexican border, and they will be "redeploying up north to go after all these illegal cannabis farms, many of which are run by the cartels that are devastating our pristine forests and increasingly themselves becoming fire hazards." Dale Gieringer, long-time head of California NORML, scoffed at the cartel claims. "I don’t know about this old 'cartels' thing," he said. "Frankly we’ve seen very little at all about illegal activity in the way of growing in the wilderness the way we used to. Cartel involvement is a bugaboo they like to throw around."

North Carolina Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Paul Lowe (D-Forsyth) filed a marijuana legalization bill, SB 58, on Wednesday. The bill would legalize the possession of up to three ounces, with possession of more than three ounces charged as a misdemeanor. Lowe introduced a similar measure last year, but it never made it out of the Senate Rules and Operations Committee.

Medical Marijuana

House, Senate Bills to Give Vets Access to Medical Marijuana Filed. Legislators in both the House and Senate filed companion bills to make it legal under federal law for military veterans to "use, possess, or transport medical marijuana" in compliance with state laws. Sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the bill, known as The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, would block veterans who use medical marijuana under state laws from being harassed by federal officials and would clarify that VA doctors can recommend medical marijuana to their patients. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website, but the text is available here.

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Dies. A bill that would have added 13 qualifying conditions to the state's medical marijuana law was killed Wednesday after state health officials maintained the drug causes harm. More than a dozen people spoke in favor of  HB 1150, to no avail.

Asset Forfeiture

Ted Cruz Wants El Chapo to Pay for the Border Wall. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is using the conviction of Sinaloa Cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to flog a bill he introduced last month that would use assets seized from Mexican drug cartels to build a wall on the US-Mexico border. "America’s justice system prevailed today in convicting Joaquín Guzmán Loera, aka El Chapo, on all 10 counts. U.S. prosecutors are seeking $14 billion in drug profits & other assets from El Chapo which should go towards funding our wall to #SecureTheBorder," Cruz wrote in a tweet. The bill is S. 25, cutely titled the Ensuring Lawful Collection of Hidden Assets to Provide Order Act or the EL CHAPO Act. Companion legislation has also been filed in the House.

Law Enforcement

Old Drug Warrior William Barr Confirmed as US Attorney General. The Senate confirmed William Barr as attorney general Thursday on a 54-45 vote. Only three Democrats—Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), Doug Jones (AL), and Joe Manchin (WV) voted in favor of Barr, while Sen. Rand Paul was the only Republican to oppose his nomination. His nomination was opposed by drug reformers who cited his record as a drug war hardliner while serving as attorney general under President George HW Bush.

International

European Parliament Approves Resolution to Advance Medical Marijuana. The European Parliament voted Wednesday to approve a resolution aimed at advancing medical marijuana in countries that form the European Union. The non-binding resolution seeks to provide incentives to member states to increase access to medical marijuana and prioritize medical marijuana research and clinical studies.

Brazil Drug War "Shoot to Kill" Policy Bears First Fruit—13 Dead in Rio. Police engaged in drug raids under the aggressive policies of state Gov. Wilson Witzel, who campaigned on using "shoot to kill" tactics against armed drug gang members, killed at least 13 people in the Fallet/Fogueteiro favela in central Rio de Janeiro last Friday. But relatives of the dead and witnesses said some were gang members but had surrendered their weapons before being executed and two others were teenagers with no gang links who were tortured and executed in their own homes. The killings led to a heated public meeting to demand justice in the favela on Tuesday, but analysts said to expect more: "It’s a very symbolic operation," said Ignacio Cano, a professor of sociology at the State University of Rio, who said he expects police killings to rise: "Everything indicates there will be an increase because there is an open encouragement from both the federal and state government." Cano, compared the killings to the extrajudicial executions of drug users in the Philippines under Rodrigo Duterte and said there were indications of "summary executions."

Chronicle AM: El Chapo Convicted on All Counts, NY Legal Pot Politics Heats Up, More... (2/12/19)

The former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel has been found guilty on all counts at his trial in New York City, Sri Lanka advertises for hangmen as the president there vows to resume drug executions, South Dakota House members defy their governor and approve a hemp bill, and more.

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman being arrested in Mexico. He's now been found guilty in a court in New York. (sedena.gov.mx)
Marijuana Policy

New York Pot Legalization Foes Lobby in Albany. Groups opposed to marijuana legalization gathered at the Capitol Monday to urge lawmakers to reject the idea. Led by Kevin Sabet of Smart About Marijuana, foes warned that legalization would lead to increased use among schoolchildren—even though that hasn’t been the case in early legalization states such as Colorado and Washington. Sabet was joined at the Capitol by representatives of the state PTA, the Police Conference of New York and representatives of groups that deal with drug and alcohol addiction, all of which oppose legalization.

New York Coalition Urges Governor Cuomo to Improve Marijuana Legalization Bill to Center Racial and Economic Justice. Members of the Start SMART NY coalition (Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade) Tuesday laid out their vision for a just marijuana industry and demanded that Governor Andrew Cuomo incorporate the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (A.1617) into his proposed recreational marijuana legalization plan. The act is model legislation to create a taxed and regulated adult-use marijuana market that not only creates economic opportunities for all New Yorkers but also addresses the harms of decades of prohibition. 

Hemp

South Dakota House Ignores Governor, Passes Hemp Bill. Rejecting advice from Gov. Kristi Noem (R) to leave hemp alone this year, the House on Monday voted 65-2 to pass HB 1191, which would give farmers and producers the green light on hemp production beginning July 1. The bill now heads to the Senate, where GOP leaders say it will likely pass.

Law Enforcement

El Chapo Convicted on All Counts. Joaquin Guzman Loera, known by various aliases, including “El Chapo” and “El Rapido,” was convicted today by a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York of being a principal operator of a continuing criminal enterprise – the Mexican organized crime syndicate known as the Sinaloa Cartel – a charge that includes 26 drug-related violations and one murder conspiracy.  Guzman Loera was convicted of all 10 counts of a superseding indictment, including narcotics trafficking, using a firearm in furtherance of his drug crimes and participating in a money laundering conspiracy.  The verdict followed a 12-week trial before U.S. District Judge Brian M. Cogan.  Guzman Loera faces a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. Sentencing has been set for June.

Pregnancy

Tennessee Bill Would Prosecute Mothers for Drug Use While Pregnant. A bill filed last week, SB 659, would authorize a woman to be prosecuted for assault based on the person using a narcotic drug illegally while pregnant if the child is born addicted to or harmed by the drug used. A woman could avoid prosecution under the bill if she was actively enrolled in an addiction recovery program before the child was born if she remained in the program after delivery and successfully completed the program. An identical bill has been filed in the House.

International

Sri Lanka Advertises for Hangmen as President Pushes for Harsher Drug War. The government has begun advertising for hangmen after President Maithripala Sirisena said last week he wanted to resume capital punishment for drug traffickers within 60 days. Although drug trafficking is already a capital offense in the country, no one has been executed for any crime there since 1976. Last month, during a visit to the Philippines, Sirisena praised President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, which has resulted in the deaths of thousands.

Chronicle AM: FL MedMJ Moves, CA Safe Injection Site Bill Filed, More... (2/5/19)

Florida courts and the legislature are both dealing with the legislature's previous efforts to mess with the voter-approved medical marijuana amendment, a pot legalization bill gets a hearing in New Hampshire, a Virginia trooper and a drug suspect are killed in the drug war, and more.

There's a battle over smokable medical marijuana in Florida. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Guam's Governor Supports Marijuana Legalization Bill. Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has come out in support of a marijuana legalization measure, Bill 32-35, the Guam Cannabis Industry Act of 2019. Her move came after meeting with bill author Sen. Clynt Ridgell last Friday, but her support is not surprising; she’s been in favor of legalization for some time. The bill would allow adults to possess and grow their own marijuana, as well as create a system of legal marijuana commerce.

New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets Hearing. A bill to legalize marijuana, HB 481, got a public hearing Tuesday. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton), is opposed by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Bill to End Ban on Smoking Gets Twisted. A bill from Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) that would end the ban on smoking medical marijuana, SB 182, was so altered in the Senate Health Policy Committee Monday that Brandes now says it would be worse for patients that doing nothing at all. At the behest of Chairwoman Gayle Harrell (R-Port St. Lucie), the committee voted to require that patients seeking to use smokable marijuana get a second opinion from a physician and to mandate that doctors would only be able to order smokable marijuana if it were the only route of administration that would benefit the patient. Brandes says the bill “will have to be significantly amended” before he would send it to the Senate floor for a full vote.

Florida Judge Again Strikes Down Cap on Dispensaries. For the second time in a month, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers has struck down a state law capping the number of dispensaries a medical marijuana business can operate. The limit on the number of storefronts was not contained in the state’s successful medical marijuana amendment but imposed by the legislature in 2017. In her opinion, Gievers harshly criticized the legislature and state health officials for failing to comply with the amendment. "The evidence clearly and conclusively establishes beyond any doubt that conveniently located medical marijuana dispensaries (as opposed to vehicle delivery, the only allowed alternative means of dispensing) promote authorized users’ improved access to medical marijuana products and related information and services, at lower cost, and promote public safety (the stated goals for regulation in the amendment)," Gievers wrote in Friday’s ruling.

Hemp

Mississippi Lawmakers Reject Move to Let Farmers Grow Hemp. The House Drug Policy Committee on Monday rejected on a tie vote an amendment that would have changed state law to allow farmers to grow hemp in the state. Congress last year approved the production of hemp in pilot programs.

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Gets Hearing. The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony Monday on HB 1286, which seeks to end civil asset forfeiture in the state. Law enforcement officials testified against ending civil forfeiture but appeared open to transparency and reporting requirements in the bill.

Harm Reduction

California Legislature to Consider Allowing Pilot Overdose Prevention ProjectsState Assemblymember Susan Talamantes-Eggman (D-Stockton) and State Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) on Monday filed a bill to allow the City of San Francisco to pilot and evaluate an “overdose prevention site” program. These sites would allow drug users could consume illegal drugs, including heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine, under the supervision of staff trained to prevent and treat drug overdose and to help steer people who use drugs into drug treatment, housing, and other medical and social services. The bill is AB 362.

Law Enforcement

Virginia Trooper, Suspect Killed in Drug Raid. State Trooper Lucas Powell was shot and killed Monday night as he participated in a drug raid by the Piedmont Regional Gang and Drug Task Force in Cumberland County. The person whose home was being raided and who killed Powell, Corey Johnson, was then shot and killed by police.

International

Mexico to Try New Tactics in Search for Those Missing in Drug War. Mexican officials said Monday they have a new plan to search for the more than 40,000 people who have gone missing amidst the country’s drug wars. The government will create a new forensic institute and work more closely with families and international groups, interior ministry undersecretary for human rights Alejandro Encinas said at a press conference. In addition to the 40,000 missing, there are some 26,000 unidentified bodies in the forensic system, he said.

Drug War Issues

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