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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: OR Magic Mushroom Init Coming in 2020, MI MedMJ Rules Set, More... (12/5/17)

A proposed Oregon initiative would legalize psilocbyin for medicinal use, Michigan regulators release emergency medical marijuana rules in the nick of time, Wisconsin takes another step toward drug testing welfare and job training participants, and more.

A proposed Oregon initiative would legalize psilocybin for medical use. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Michigan Releases Medical Marijuana Business Rules. The state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has released emergency rules governing medical marijuana facilities with just two weeks to go before the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation begins taking applications. "The emergency administrative rules are designed to preserve patient protections and provide them with access to safe medical marihuana," said Bureau of Medical Marihuana Regulation Director Andrew Brisbo. "These rules also allow growers, processors, secure transporters, provisioning centers, and safety compliance facilities to operate under clear requirements."

Psychedelics

Oregon 2020 Initiative Would Legalize Psilocybin Mushrooms. A husband and wife team calling themselves the Oregon Psilocybin Society are working on putting a psilocybin legalization initiative on the state's 2020 ballot. The measure doesn't call for legal recreational use, but would create a highly regulated system to allow use for medical purposes. Next door in California, a similar initiative aimed at 2018 would legalize magic mushrooms.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Approves Plan to Drug Test Welfare, Job Training Participants. Gov. Scott Walker (R) has approved a plan to implement drug screening for able-bodied adults participating in the FoodShare Employment and Training (FSET) program, sending the rule change measure to the State Legislature for review. The rule is part of the policy amendments included in 2015 Wisconsin Act 55. The legislature now has 120 days to review the measure. Once approved by the legislature, it will become effective the first day of the following month.

International

Leading Mexican Presidential Candidate Suggests Amnesty for Drug Cartel Kingpins. Leading presidential contender Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has caused controversy by suggesting that he is open to amnesty for drug cartel leaders as part of a dialog aimed at ending that violence that has seen an estimated 200,000 people killed in the last decade. "If it is necessary… we will talk about granting amnesty so long as the victims and their families are willing," he said. "We'll propose it. I'm analyzing it. What I can say is that we will leave no issue without discussion if it has to do with peace and tranquility." Lopez Obrador currently has a more than 10-point lead in presidential polls, and his foes in the political and business classes are trying to use the remarks against him.

Chronicle AM: Kampia Out as MPP Head, Denver Bans Kratom Sales, More... (11/21/17)

A key Republican senator -- from the south -- has authored an appropriations bill that would not bar DC from allowing marijuana sales, longtime MPP head Rob Kampia steps down, Denver bans kratom sales, and more.

After nearly a quarter of a century, Rob Kampia has stepped down as head of the Marijuana Policy Project. (YouTube)
Marijuana Policy

GOP Senator's Bill Would Let DC Legalize Marijuana Sales. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has authored a District of Columbia appropriations bill that does not contain a budget rider barring the city from spending its own money to set up a system to tax and regulate marijuana sales. Although DC voters approved legalization in 2014, they did not legalize sales because DC law does not allow initiatives to address tax and funding issues. The DC council was expected to enact laws allowing for sales, but has been blocked by congressional riders in DC appropriations bills. But the House has already passed an appropriations bill that contains the rider, so even if the Senate bill passes, it will have to be sorted out in conference committee.

Kampia Out as Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director, Will Take Up Fundraising Role. MPP cofounder and long-time executive director Rob Kampia is leaving that role, but will remain with the organization as director of strategic development. He is being replaced on an interim basis by Matthew Schweich, who joined the group as director of state campaigns in 2015, while the MPP and MPP Foundation boards seek a permanent replacement. "This transition has been considered carefully by Rob and the board. We desired to shift Rob's workload one year ago after his intense work on the Nevada and Arizona campaigns," said Troy Dayton, who sits on the boards of directors for MPP and MPP Foundation. "Shortly after Election Day, Rob quickly shifted gears in December to start the Michigan 2018 legalization campaign. With the Michigan signature drive now complete, it is the right time to shift Rob's focus to new and bigger projects."

New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus Chair Skeptical on Legalization, Will Hold Hearings on "Negative Consequences." State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), head of the Legislative Black Caucus, announced Monday that he will hold hearings on the negative consequences of marijuana legalization in states that have already legalized it. "We know there are negative factors that we will need to safeguard against, from children's access to marijuana-infused edibles to motor vehicle accidents caused by impaired driving to the effect of marijuana on babies and the impact of legalization on communities of color," he said in a statement. "As chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, I plan to convene hearings at various locations around the state to make sure that we really delve into the details of this issue," Rice said. Incoming Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has said he supports legalization, and a bill to do that is alive in the legislature.

Kratom

Denver Bans Kratom Sales. Denver Environmental Health announced Monday that it has banned the sale of kratom within the city. The move comes days after the Food & Drug Administration issued a public health advisory against consumption of the herb, which works on the body's opioid receptors and has been popular as a pain reliever and for people attempting to wean themselves from opioids. The ban is not complete, however: The herb may still be sold for non-consumptive uses, such as aromatherapy or soap making, as long as it bears a warning label that it is not intended for human consumption.

International

Philippines Supreme Court Hears Case Challenging Drug War. The Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments Monday in a case challenging the Philippines National Police's anti-drug operations that have resulted in the deaths of thousands of drug suspects. Attorneys challenging the campaign accuse the police of violating numerous rights guaranteed under national law, including human and privacy rights. Coming in for close scrutiny was a PNP policy that allowed police to go house to house for searches and to build cases against anyone who refused to allow them warrantless entry. Lawyers also accused PNP polices of expressly authorizes police to kill drug suspects. Oral arguments will continue next week.

Chronicle AM: US Bombs Taliban Drug Hubs, MI Campaign Turns in Signatures, More... (11/20/17)

Michigan could vote to legalize marijuana next November, Wyoming moves to definitively criminalize marijuana edibles and infusions, the US bombs Taliban heroin production facilities in Afghanistan, and more.

The US wages war on the opium poppy in Afghanistan in a bid to blunt Taliban finances. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

House Republicans Block Bill to Address Marijuana Banking Issues. House Republicans have blocked an attempt by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) to consider a bill that would prevent the federal government from punishing banks that do business with marijuana companies. Republicans in the House Banking Committee shot it down because they said it wasn't relevant to the issue under consideration, stress tests for banks.

Michigan Marijuana Legalization Campaign Turns in 360,000 Signatures to Place Issue on 2018 Ballot. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol turned in more than 360,000 signatures Monday today calling for its marijuana legalization initiative to be placed on Michigan's November 2018 ballot. The initiative needs 252,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. The campaign says it has already vetted many of its signatures, so it should qualify by a comfortable margin, but stay tuned.

Wyoming Moves to Crack Down on Marijuana Edibles, Infused Liquids. Seeking to address a lacuna in the state's marijuana laws, the legislature's Joint Judiciary Committee voted last Thursday to advance two bills that would specifically criminalize marijuana edibles and products infused with marijuana. State courts have declared themselves unable to prosecute people for possessing edibles or infused products because current law does not specifically address them.

Medical Marijuana

Guam Medical Marijuana Regulations Being Drafted. Hearings have been set for the legislature's Rules Committee early next month in a bid to get medical marijuana regulations in final form before Christmas. A public hearing is set for December 5, with the final draft to be marked up in committee on December 14.

Foreign Policy

US Launches Airstrikes in First Operation Targeting Afghan Opium. The US launched its first counternarcotics military offensive of the Trump era this past weekend with air strikes aimed at "Taliban narcotics production facilities" in restive Helmand province. "We hit the labs where they turn poppy into heroin. We hit their storage facilities where they keep their final product, where they stockpile their money and their command and control. Our estimates indicate that more than $200 million from this illegal economy was going into the pockets of the Taliban," General John Nicholson, commander of US troops and NATO's Resolute Support military mission, said at a Monday news conference in Kabul. Afghanistan accounts for about 90% of global opium production and produced a record crop this year.

International

Peru President Signs Medical Marijuana Bill into Law. President Pedro Kuczynski has signed into law a bill legalizing marijuana and its derivatives, such as CBD cannabis oil, to be used in the treatment of specified diseases, including Parkinson's Disease, cancer, and epilepsy. Peru now joins Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico in having medical marijuana laws, while Uruguay has legalized it for any adults.

Chronicle AM: Second Australia SIJ Coming, DEA Adds Heroin Enforcement Teams, More... (10/30/17)

The Victoria state government has approved a safe injection site in Melbourne, a new report warns that high taxes on legal marijuana could push people to the black market, New Jersey adds some new qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use, and more.

Australia's second safe injection site will open in Melbourne next year. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Report: High Legal Pot Taxes Could Push Consumers to Black Market. California retail marijuana taxes, which could reach as high as 45% in some cases, could potentially push consumers out of legal pot shops and into the black market, according to a new report from the credit rating agency Fitch Ratings. "The existing black market for cannabis may prove a formidable competitor to legal markets if new taxes lead to higher prices than available from illicit sources," the report says.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Adds Five New Qualifying Conditions. The state's Medical Marijuana Review Panel has officially approved five new qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. They are anxiety, chronic pain related to musculoskeletal disorders, migraines, chronic pain of visceral origin, and Tourette's Syndrome. The panel rejected adding chronic fatigue syndrome and asthma as qualifying conditions.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Creates Six New Heroin Enforcement Teams. The DEA has announced the establishment of six new enforcement teams focused on heroin and fentanyl. The teams will operate in New Bedford, Massachusetts; Charleston, West Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; Cleveland, Ohio; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Long Island, New York. The DEA got funding in its Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations to pay for the teams.

Public Health Experts Issue Report With Comprehensive Recommendations for Opioid Crisis.
Experts from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in collaboration with the Clinton Foundation have issued a report with comprehensive recommendations for stemming the opioid crisis. Among its 10 priority recommendations are: expanded electronic opioid prescription monitoring, policies in line with CDC Opioid Prescribing Guidelines, clear guidance on opioid disposal and "take back" programs, increased federal funding for drug treatment in the most hard hit communities, and cheaper naloxone.

International

Taliban Now Making Heroin -- and Increased Profits. For years, Afghanistan's Taliban have profited from opium poppy production, using the proceeds to finance their war, but now, Afghan and Western officials say that more than half of Afghan opium is being processed in-country, and that is leading for increased profits for the Taliban, for whom the drug trade consists of about 60% of its income.

Australia to Get Second Safe Injection Site, in Melbourne. The Victoria state government cabinet has approved a safe injection site for the North Richmond area of Melbourne. It is set to open next year. At the same time, the state government is also moving to crack down on heroin traffickers by reducing the amounts of heroin needed to impose harsh sentences.

Chronicle AM: Dutch to Pilot Legal Marijuana Grows, OR Marijuana Tax $$$, More... (10/10/17)

The Dutch finally begin to address their marijuana "back door problem," Canadian Mounties and tribal members clash over a pot shop, California's governor vetoes an opioid task force bill as redundant, and more.

The coffee shops of Amsterdam have no legal source of supply, but that is about to change. (Wikmedia)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Again Rejects Legalization Initiative. State Attorney General Leah Rutledge has again rejected a proposed marijuana legalization initiative from Mary Berry of Summit. The initiative would have allowed people to grow up to 25 mature pot plants, but Rutledge expressed concern about that provision and several others, sending it back to Berry for a rewrite. This is the second time this year for Berry, who is recent years has been a prolific filer of legalization initiatives.

Oregon Distributes Marijuana Tax Funds. The state Department of Revenue announced last Friday that it is disbursing some $85 million in marijuana tax revenues. The taxes, from sales between January 2016 and August 2017, will go to schools, public health, police, and local government.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Edibles Must Be Tested for Potency Beginning Next Month. As of November 1, all medical marijuana edibles and other infused pot products will be subject to mandatory potency testing by state testing laboratories, the Marijuana Enforcement Division announced last week. The move is a result of bill passed last by the state legislature. Products manufactured before November 1 will be grandfathered in.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

California Governor Vetoes Bill Creating Prescription Opioid Task Force, Says It's Redundant. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has vetoed Assembly Bill 715, which would have creating a new state working group to determine best practices for opioid prescribing. In his veto message, Brown acknowledged the opioid crisis, but said the bill was "unnecessary" because the state public health department had established such a group three years ago.

International

Seeking Finally to Solve Back Door Problem, Dutch Give Nod to Pilot Regulated Marijuana Production Projects. The new Dutch cabinet will approve pilot projects for regulated marijuana production to supply the country's cannabis cafes, a belated move to end the country's chronic "back door problem," where sales and possession of marijuana is legal, but there is no legal source of supply for the cafes. Between six and 10 local councils will be given permission to license producers in their communities.

Canadian Mounties Battle First Nations Tribe in Medical Marijuana Shop Raid. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police raided a new medical marijuana shop on the Tobique First Nations reservation last week, leading to a blockade by tribe members that could have turned into "full-out conflict," according to Tobique Chief Ross Penley. Nearly a hundred tribe members and several vehicles blocked officers from leaving for several hours before tribal officials negotiated their release. The RCMP say the shop is illegal and subject to a cease and desist order, but it reopened within hours of the raid.

Scottish Nationalists Call for Drug Policy to Be Devolved, So They Can Decriminalize Drugs. The ruling Scottish National Party has approved a motion at its Glasgow conference calling for drug law-making powers to be passed from London to Edinburgh. The motion called for the devolution of the policy-making power so the Scottish parliament can consider "all options for harm reduction, including drug declassification, decriminalization, and regulation."

Chronicle AM: Fed Sentencing Reform Bill Filed, Colombia Coca Clashes, More... (10/6/17)

Leading senators roll out a federal sentencing reform bill, Jeff Sessions ramps up the Safe Neighborhoods program, the VA doubles down against medical marijuana, more clashes erupt in Colombia's coca producing areas, and more.

A newly filed Senate bill seeks to address prison overcrowding. (supremecourt.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Just Keeps On Selling More and More Legal Weed. The state broke its marijuana sales record for the sixth consecutive month in August, a trend that officials expect to continue when September figures come in. Farmers sold 734 pounds of buds and 444 pounds of other marijuana plant parts to retailers in August, generating nearly $700,000 in taxes for the state.

Kentucky State Senator Calls for Legalization to Ease Budget Crunch. With the state facing a $200 million budget deficit this year, state Sen. Dan Seum (R-Fairdale) has suggested that legalizing marijuana could help. "My argument is before any new taxes, let's explore the potential of new monies," he told WKYT Thursday.

Maine Legalization Bill Now Requires Town to Opt In, Not Opt Out. Under the latest iteration of the legislature's bill to implement voter-approved marijuana legalization, localities would have to act affirmatively to allow medical marijuana businesses. That's the opposite of what the legalization initiative intended, which was to make localities opt out of participation if they didn't want pot businesses. The latest version of the bill is now headed for a floor vote on October 23.

San Diego Sets Legal Marijuana Business Rules. California's second largest city has made itself ready for legal marijuana. The city has finalized rules for pot growing and manufacturing ahead of the scheduled January 1 start date for legal marijuana sales. It will allow both indoor cultivation and manufacturing, as well as testing labs.

Medical Marijuana

Veterans Department Reiterates Opposition to Medical Marijuana Use. VA policy has been to disallow government doctors from recommending medical marijuana, but now, the agency has updated its website to state that opposition more firmly -- and inaccurately. As Tom Angell at Marijuana Majority noted, the website's claim that "as long as the Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana as Schedule I drug, VA health care providers may not recommend it or assist veterans to obtain it" is not technically true. There is no law barring the VA from allowing its doctors to recommend medical marijuana.

WADA No Longer Considers CBD a Prohibited Drug. The World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) has removed CBD from its 2018 list of prohibited substances. "Cannabidiol is no longer prohibited," WADA said. But it emphasized that THC, the euphoric psychoactive chemical in marijuana, remains banned and that CBD products could contain actionable amounts of THC. "Cannabidiol extracted from cannabis plants may contain varying concentrations of THC," WADA noted.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Federal Bill to Increase Opioid Prescribing Requirements Filed. Rep. David Roe (R-TN) Thursday filed House Resolution 3964, "to amend the Controlled Substance Act to establish additional registration requirements for prescribers of opioids." The bill text is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Ramps Up Safe Neighborhoods Program. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday plans to ramp up efforts against drug trafficking and violent gangs through the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative. In a memo, the country's top cop ordered federal prosecutors to emphasize violent crime reduction and develop plans to work with local police and prosecutors in the effort.

Sentencing

Senate Heavyweights File Sentencing Reform Bill. A bipartisan group of senators today reintroduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 to recalibrate prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, target violent and career criminals and save taxpayer dollars. The legislation permits more judicial discretion at sentencing for offenders with minimal criminal histories and helps inmates successfully reenter society, while tightening penalties for violent criminals and preserving key prosecutorial tools for law enforcement. It is led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tim Scott (R-SC), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO). The bill is S. 1917. Check back for a Chronicle feature on the bill.

International

Four Killed in Colombia Clashes Between Coca Growers, Eradicators. Four people are dead and 14 wounded after somebody attacking protesting coca farmers in the municipality of Tumaco, along the Pacific Coast. The government blamed members of a dissident FARC faction that has refused to lay down its arms, but local activists blamed government security forces for opening fire. Clashes between coca growers and security forces have become more frequent as production of cocaine in Colombia surged to record levels in recent years.

Chronicle AM: Houston Quits Trying "Trace Amount" Drug Cases, US Chides Colombia, More... (9/28/17)

San Antonio quits arresting small-time pot violators, Houston quits prosecuting folks caught with trace amounts of drugs, Vermont begins pondering how to do pot legalization, the US chides Colombia on coca and the FARC, and more.

With moves in Houston and San Antonio, change is coming to the Lone Star State.
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Marijuana Commission Begins Legalization Study. The state Marijuana Advisory Commission is holding its first meeting today. The commission is charged with studying the best way to legalize marijuana in the state. Gov. Phil Scott (R) empaneled the commission after vetoing a legalization bill in May. In his veto message, Scott said he wasn't opposed to legalization, but had concerns about underage use and impaired driving. The commission is set to report back to the legislature in January.

San Antonio to Quit Arresting People for Pot Possession. Authorities in Bexar County (San Antonio) announced Wednesday that they will no longer arrest small-time marijuana and other misdemeanor offenders, instead issuing them citations. People cited must complete a program before charges are dismissed. San Antonio now joins Harris County (Houston) and Dallas in enacting policies to no longer arrest small-time pot offenders.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Lawmakers Seek to Keep Dispensaries Open. As the state prepares to shift to a new regime allowing licensed dispensaries, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has tentatively asked all existing dispensaries to shut down by December 15 and seek licenses. But some legislators have filed House Bill 5014, which would allow dispensaries to stay open while their license applications are pending before the department. A Senate version of the bill is expected to be filed shortly.

Law Enforcement

Houston Stops Prosecuting Cases of Trace Amounts of Drugs. Harris County (Houston) District Attorney Kim Ogg has quit pursuing thousands of "trace drug" cases, where people are charged with drug possession based on drug residues left in baggies or syringes. Ogg actually quietly implemented the policy in July, but has gone public with it now. The move will save the county the cost of prosecuting somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 felony cases each year.

Sentencing

New House Bill Creates Incentives to Reduce Crime, Incarceration at Same Time. Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA) filed the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act of 2017 on Wednesday. Companion legislation, Senate Bill 1458, was filed in June by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). The bill would essentially reverse the 1994 crime bill, which provided incentives to states to increase prison populations. It would instead pay states to decrease incarceration rates through incentivizing grants.

International

US Ambassador to Colombia Says FARC Has Not Complied With Peace Deal. "The FARC have not complied, in my opinion, with their obligations under the agreement," US Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker said during a recent interview with El Tiempo. Whitaker claimed the leftist rebels continued to encourage coca cultivation in some parts of the country and said they should not be involved in government-sponsored crop substitution programs. Whitaker's comments are in line with other US officials, who have become increasingly critical of the peace deal between the FARC and the government as coca and cocaine production have increased in the past two years.

Philippines Claims It Doesn't Allow Extrajudicial Killings in Drug War. In a statement released as Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano met in Washington with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Philippines government denied it had a policy of killing suspected drug users and dealers. "Contrary to media reports, Cayetano also clarified to Tillerson that the Philippines does not have a state policy allowing extrajudicial killings, especially of illegal drug suspects," the statement read. The statement also welcomed further cooperation with Washington and reiterated the "seriousness" of the country's "drug problem." Thousands of people have been killed since President Duterte unleashed his drug war, but the Philippines claims it only kills suspects who were violently resisting arrest.

Chronicle AM: Citing Trump, DEA Head Quits; Atlanta Moves Toward MJ Decrim, More... (9/27/17)

DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg is outta here, Atlanta moves closer to pot decriminalization, San Francisco goes slow on legal pot sales, Florida's governor wants to restrict opioid prescriptions, and more.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) wants to restrict opioid prescriptions. That could leave some patients in the lurch. (fl.gov)
Atlanta Decriminalization Ordinance Advances. The city council's Public Safety Committee approved a decriminalization bill Tuesday night. The measure now goes to the full city council. If passed, the measure would give Atlanta police the discretion of citing pot law violators under the ciy ordinance or charging them with the crime of marijuana possession under state law.

Los Angeles Marijuana Regulations Advance. A city council committee approved new rules to regulate the impending legal marijuana industry Monday. The measure now goes to the full city council. The rules spell out requirements for marijuana growers, manufacturers, and sellers, but don't yet address some of the thorniest issues, including licensing and public smoking laws.

San Francisco Looks to Delay Legal Marijuana Sales. City supervisors introduced an ordinance to regulate the impending legal marijuana industry Tuesday, but admitted they have no idea what regulation will look like or how it will operate. And the city won't issue permits for marijuana businesses until it gets it figured out. Among issues the supes will have to handle are ensuring they create a method for helping low-income residents, people of color, and former drug offenders get in on the action. A report on the equity program is due November 1. Earlier this month, supervisors enacted a 45-day moratorium on new dispensary permits, but that is likely to be extended into next year, beyond the hoped for January 1 starting date.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Florida Governor Calls for Restrictions on Opioid Prescribing. Gov. Rick Scott (R) on Tuesday rolled out a serious of proposals to deal with the opioid crisis, including a three-day limit on opioid prescriptions, requiring all doctors prescribing opioids to enroll in the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, and taking on unlicensed prescribers with new regulations. The governor's press release suggests the limitation on prescription opioids is a general one, not limited to new prescriptions or prescription for acute pain. If enacted, such a measure would cause huge disruptions for Floridians accustomed to receiving larger supplies for the treatment of chronic pain and other ailments.

Drug Policy

DEA Head Quits, Says Trump Has Little Respect for the Law. Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg will resign at the end of this week, law enforcement officials said. The unnamed sources said Rosenberg had become convinced that his boss, President Trump, had little respect for the rule of law. Trump's July Long Island speech where he urged police to "please don't be too nice" to suspects drew a rebuke from Rosenberg, and Rosenberg, who had been a chief of staff to Trump-fired former FBI Director James Comey, had reportedly grown "disillusioned" with the president.

International

Gunmen Kill 14 at Mexico Drug Rehab Center. Masked gunmen broke into the Familias Unidas drug rehab center in Chihuahua City Tuesday and shot 22 people, leaving 14 dead. The state is embroiled in violent conflict between the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels, and cartel hit-men are the leading suspects. Cartels have on some occasions used such centers as barracks for their soldiers, and they have been attacked by rival cartels before, most notably in Ciudad Juarez in 2009 and Torreon in 2011.

Chronicle AM: Las Vegas MJ Lounges Hit Snag, Utah MedMJ Init Polling Well, More... (9/20/17)

The Bay State's highest court just made it harder for cops to charge people with marijuana-impaired driving, Las Vegas-area county commissioners put a stop to talk of pot lounges anytime soon, Colombia's president speaks out against the drug war (again) at the United Nations, and more.

Don't hold your breathing waiting for marijuana lounges in Vegas. It could be awhile. (Wikipedia)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Court Rules Drivers' Field Sobriety Tests Not Valid for Marijuana. The state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled Tuesday that the field sobriety tests used in drunk driving cases cannot be used as conclusive evidence that a driver was driving high. Police officers could testify as non-expert witnesses about how drivers performed in the field sobriety tests, but cannot tell juries if a driver passed or failed the test, nor provide their own opinions about whether a driver was too high to drive, the court held. The court noted that there is no reliable scientific measure for marijuana impairment, as there is with blood alcohol content.

Nevada's Clark County Says Not So Fast to Las Vegas Pot Lounges. Clark County commissioners are in no hurry to give an okay for marijuana social consumption clubs in Las Vegas. In a Tuesday meeting, they voted 6-1 to hold off on moving to allow and regulate such clubs. The move comes after attorneys for the state legislature issued an opinion saying there is no state law prohibiting the establishment of pot social clubs. Commissioners said they had regulatory concerns, as well as fears of "inviting the feds" to intervene.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Poll has Very Strong Support for Medical Marijuana Initiative. A proposed medical marijuana initiative from the Utah Patients Coalition has supermajority levels of support, according to a new UtahPolicy.com poll. The poll has support for the initiative at 74%, with only 22% opposed. More strikingly, it also has support among Mormon Church members at 63%, even the Mormon leadership has announced its opposition. The initiative push comes after the legislature has repeatedly refused to pass a medical marijuana bill.

Detroit Initiatives Qualify for November Ballot. Two local ballot measures that would open up business opportunities for medical marijuana in the city will go before voters in November. One measure would formally have the city join the state medical marijuana regulatory system and the other would amend the city's cannabis business zoning laws. The two measures overcame a challenge from the Detroit Elections Commission and have now been approved by the county election commission.

International

Colombian President Uses UN Speech to Call for New Approach to Drugs. President Juan Manuel Santos used the occasion of his final speech before the United Nations to repeat his call for a change in the way the world wages the war on drugs. Saying that under drug prohibition, "the remedy has been worse than the disease," he argued that the drug war "has not been won, nor is being won and we require new approaches and new strategies." Santos' remarks came just days after President Trump criticized Colombia for an increase in coca and cocaine production and threatened to decertify the country as cooperating with US drug war aims.

Drug War Issues

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