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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.

Chronicle AM: Baltimore to End Pot Possession Arrests, Deadly Houston Drug Raid, More... (1/29/19)

The attorney general-to-be puts his vow to not go after legal businesses in writing, Baltimore ends pot possession arrests, a Houston drug raid turns violent and deadly, and more.

Possessing a bud or two won't get you arrested in Baltimore anymore. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Nominee Puts Pledge to Leave Legal Pot Alone in Writing. The man nominated as the next US attorney general, William Barr, has now put his pledge earlier this month to not “go after” state-compliant legal marijuana operations in writing. Responding to written questions from senators, Barr wrote: "As discussed at my hearing, I do not intend to go after parties who have complied with state law in reliance on the Cole Memorandum." That memorandum, crafted in the Obama era, provided some security for legal marijuana businesses but was rescinded by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions last year.

Minnesota GOP Senate Leader Just Says No to Legal Marijuana Bills. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said Monday that bills aiming to legalize marijuana had no chance of passing his chamber. “Legalizing marijuana is...not something I would consider a priority issue,” he said. Democrats control the House, but Republicans hold a two-seat majority in the Senate.

Baltimore To Stop Prosecuting Marijuana Possession, Vacate 5,000 Convictions. State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced Tuesday that the city will stop prosecuting pot possession cases and will move to vacate some 5,000 marijuana-related convictions. “Is the enforcement and prosecution of marijuana possession making us safer as a city? The answer is emphatically no,” she said. More than 95% of those arrested for simple possession in the city have been black.

Medical Marijuana

Second Florida Bill to End Ban on Smoking Medical Marijuana Filed. State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) has filed SB 182, which would end the state's ban on smoking medical marijuana. A similar bill, SB 372, was filed earlier this month by Sen. Gary Farmer (D-Fort Lauderdale). The ban has also been challenged in the courts, and GOP Gov. Ron De Santis has said that he will drop the state's appeal in the case if lawmakers don't eliminate the ban.

Law Enforcement

Houston Drug Raid Leaves Two Suspects Dead, Four Officers Shot. A forced entry raid of a house where heroin sales were suspected resulted in four police officers shot and wounded and two people in the house shot dead by police. Police came under fire as soon as they knocked down the door and attempted to enter the residence. Investigators found no heroin, but they found marijuana and a white powder believed to be cocaine or fentanyl, Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a news conference. 

Chronicle AM: Mexico Murders Hit Record High, Free MedMJ for Federal Workers, More... (1/24/19)

One company is offering free medical marijuana to federal workers affected by the shutdown, New Mexico sees a pot legalization bill filed, Mexican murders hit an all-time high, and more.

One company is offering free medical marijuana to federal workers affected by the shutdown. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Javier Martinez (D) and four cosponsors filed a marijuana legalization bill, HB 356, Thursday. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website. It would set up a regulated system of marijuana production and sales, automatically expunge certain marijuana offenses, and allow localities to opt out of marijuana sales, among other provisions.

Washington State Bill Would Allow Home Cultivation. A bipartisan group of legislators has filed HB 1131 and a companion measure in the Senate that would allow home cultivation of marijuana. Washington is the only legal state that so far does not allow it. The bills would allow adults to grow up to six plants at home, with a household limit of 15 plants.
Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Provider Offering Free Product to Government Workers Affected by Shutdown. BudTrader.com, which describes itself as “the largest online cannabis marketplace,” is offering free medical marijuana to federal workers who can't pay because of the shutdown. “I don’t think federal employees are getting enough love and support, in these tough times, we want to extend the offer of a donation of medical cannabis to any federal worker affected by the shutdown,” BudTrader CEO Brad McLaughlin said in a Tuesday news release. The company said it will donate “the maximum legal allowable amount of cannabis” to any affected government employees.

CBS Rejects Medical Marijuana Superbowl Ad. CBS has refused to air a Superbowl ad submitted by Acreage Holdings, an American marijuana company whose board of directors includes former House Speaker John Boehner. The ad would have focused on how medical marijuana helped people cope with pain. Acreage said it may sue over the issue.

International

Driven by Drug Wars, Mexico's Murders Hit All-Time High. The Mexican Secretariat of Security and Citizen Protection reported Wednesday that the country saw a record 33,341 homicides last year, up more than 15% over 2017. Many of those killings are directly linked to violence among competing drug cartels and between cartels and the state. The dead included nine journalists, and another one has already been killed there this year.


 

Chronicle AM: Federal Marijuana Bill Filed, Ciudad Juarez Drug War Killings Surge, More... (1/4/19)

Wow, that was fast: The first marijuana bill of the new Congress has already been filed, an Arizona sheriff finally hops on board the naloxone train, Ciudad Juarez drug war killings are way up, and more.

Deputies in Pima County, Arizona, will finally start carrying the overdose reversal drug naloxone. (pa.gov)
Marijuana Policy

The New Congress Just Saw Its First Marijuana Bill Filed. That didn't take long. Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Don Young (R-AK) on Thursday reintroduced the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act. The bipartisan bill would protect state medical marijuana programs from federal interference and open the way for doctors at the Veterans Administration to recommend medical marijuana. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website, but you can view last year's version here. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is expected to file the Senate version soon.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Georgia Joins List of States Suing Opioid Makers for Fueling Drug Crisis. Georgia has now become the latest of more than 30 states that have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for what they say is their role in fueling the opioid crisis. The state is suing nine opioid makers and distributors in state court for what it calls racketeering and for creating the crisis. "We have over a 1,000 Georgians that died last year, more Georgians dying every day. We have over 1,000 Georgians right now that are suffering from an opioid misuse disorder," said Attorney General Chris Carr. The state is seeking both monetary damages to repay it for costs incurred fighting the epidemic, as well as punitive damages.

Harm Reduction

Arizona's Pima County Sheriff Finally Gets on Board With Deputies Carrying Naloxone. Pima County, home to the state's second largest city, Tucson, has gotten with the program and the sheriff's department will now issue the overdose reversal to deputies. Deputies in eleven of the state's 15 counties already carry it. Department officials had previously argued it was necessary for deputies because paramedics already carried it and because it might become unstable in the Arizona summer heat, but Sheriff Mark Napier admitted Wednesday that medical experts had told him the worse that could happen was that it might not work.

International

Mexico's Ciudad Juarez Had Nearly 1,250 Murders Last Year. The border city just across the Rio Grande from El Paso saw a big spike in murders last year, most of them drug prohibition-related. The state attorney general's office reported 1,247 killings last year, a big increase from the 772 people killed in 2017 and nearly triple the number killed in 2014. Most of the violence is related to the revival of the Juarez Cartel and to the defection of a key Los Aztecas leader to La Linea. Los Aztecas are also in the midst of internal factional strife. But wait, there's more: There's also a factional fight within Los Artistas Asesinos (Assassin Artists), a street enforcement gang with links to the Sinaloa Cartel, which is also working in the area.

Chronicle AM: James Carroll Approved as Drug Czar, Tijuana's Bloody 2018, More... (1/3/19)

Pennsylvania lawmakers are moving on marijuana legalization, the Trump administration finally gets a permanent drug czar, Tijuana saw a bloody year last year, and more.

Colombian coca farmers have been busy expanding their crop, and the US is concerned. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Get Moving on Legalization. On Wednesday, legalization proponent Sen. Daylin Leach (D) revealed that he and Sen. Sharif Street (D) are in the final stages of preparing a bill to legalize marijuana. On Thursday, Rep. Jake Wheatley Jr. (D) sent out a cosponsorship memo seeking support for a soon-to-filed House bill he described as "the most comprehensive legalization legislation to date."

Drug Policy

Senate Approves James Carroll as Drug Czar. James Carroll, who has been acting head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) since February, was confirmed as director Wednesday in one of the last acts of the lame duck Senate. Now, after nearly two years without a drug czar, the White House finally has a top drug policy advisor other than Kellyanne Conway.

Foreign Policy

Pompeo "Concerned" Over Colombia Coca Cultivation Increase. In a meeting with Colombian President Ivan Duque Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US is deeply concerned about rising levels of coca cultivation there. He also said the US would work with Colombia to cut production in half within five years.

International

Tijuana Saw 2,500 Murders Last Year as Drug Wars Raged. The state attorney general's office released a year-end report on December 31 saying that Tijuana had seen 2,499 registered homicides in 2018, but more bodies were found before day's end, bringing the toll past 2,500. The report said about 85% of the killings were related to the drug trade, especially a turf war between the New Generation Tijuana Cartel (aligned with the New Generation Jalisco Cartel) and the Sinaloa Cartel. But some of the killings are a result of factional fights within the Sinaloa Cartel over lucrative street-level markets and smuggling routes to the US.

The Year in Drugs II: Good, Bad, and Ugly Global Drug Policy in 2018 [FEATURE]

(See our Top Domestic Drug Stories of 2018 piece here.)

It's been a year we couldn't wait to put behind us, but as 2018 comes to an end, we can look back on some advances on the international drug policy front, as well as continued brutal and regressive responses from some quarters. Here are 10 of the global drug policy stories that shaped the year, for better or worse:

Iranian drug executions have come to a screeching halt in one of the good news stories of 2018. (handsoffcain.info)
1. Drug Death Penalty Reforms Cause Massive Drop in Executions

Early this year, it became official: Iran had reformed its death penalty statutes to radically reduce the number of people facing execution for drug offenses, and it had done so retroactively, saving the lives of thousands already on death row. By mid-year, it was clear that the move was having an impact, as human rights observers reported a 99% reduction in drug executions, with only one person being executed for drugs as of June, compared to more than a hundred during the same period in 2017.

2. Canada Becomes the First G8 Country to Legalize Marijuana

Justin Trudeau pledged that he was elected prime minister, his government would legalize marijuana. It didn't happen as fast as he would have liked, but the Liberals' legalization bill passed parliament in June and went into effect on October 17. So far, the sky has not fallen.

3. Medical Marijuana Earns Growing Acceptance

The year began with Thailand announcing a plan to allow medical marijuana and ended with Thailand approving it and becoming the first Southeast Asian country to do so. But in the meantime, Israeli pharmacies began selling medical marijuana in April, Zimbabwe legalized it in May, and Portugal and Luxembourg followed suit in June. In November, Great Britain joined the club, and Greece issued its first medical marijuana production licenses. Late in the year, in South Korea, the National Assembly approved an amendment to the country's drug laws that will pave the way for the use of medical marijuana by prescription, and New Zealand also approved it in December Not a bad year for medical marijuana.

Canadian Senate
4. The Philippines Drug War Continues, But Pressures Mount…

The bloody drug war of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte continued apace in 2018, with a death toll now put at 12, 000 (20,000 by some estimates), but Duterte has come under increasing pressure both domestically and internationally. In February, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch aimed broadsides at the Philippines even as the International Criminal Court began "preliminary examinations" of whether there is sufficient evidence to bring a case before the court. In March, activists called out drug war human rights abuses at the embassy in Washington, DC. By July, an unbowed Duterte was vowing to continue a "relentless and chilling" drug war even as national human rights groups said he was using it as a cover for assassinating political opponents. In September, he unleashed an attack on a second drug war critic, Senator Antonio Trillanes, after last year imprisoning critic Senator Leila de Lima on trumped up drug charges. She is still imprisoned.

5.. ...and the Rot Spreads in the Region

Following the lead of the Philippines, other countries in the region have also embraced drug war thuggery and human rights abuses. In May, the Bangladeshi opposition warned of a wave of police killings of drug suspects, and within weeks, more than a hundred were killed and 20,000 arrested, even as evidence emerged that the crackdown was being used to hide political assassinations. The situation was fraught enough that the UN human rights head and even the US State Department expressed concern. Drug war killings were also reported in Indonesia, although there were mixed signals about moves toward reforms there, and Sri Lanka vowed to begin hanging drug dealers. Paradoxically though, a Malaysian court's imposition of a death sentence on a man for providing cannabis oil to patients now appears to have resulted in a moratorium on the death sentence and could end the death penalty in its entirety in the county.

6. The US President Aligns Himself With Global Drug War Authoritarians

President Donald Trump was a baleful presence on the global drug policy stage this past year, sympathizing with drug war authoritarians such as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, as well as drug death penalty countries such as China and Singapore. He said early in the year he wants to execute all drug dealers and admires the Singapore approach (mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking), a statement that moved more than 150 organizations to condemn his call. At year's end, he was singing a similar tune with a ghoulish call for more Chinese drug executions. In between, he went to the United Nations to try to gin up a reinvigorated global drug war.

coca leaves drying by highway
7. South Africa Legalizes Marijuana

In a case brought by three marijuana users, the country's Constitutional Court ruled that the private possession, cultivation, and consumption of marijuana is legal. "It will not be a criminal offense for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption," Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo wrote in his ruling. It will, however, remain illegal to use cannabis in public and to sell and supply it. The ruling did not set allowable quantities, with the court saying parliament had two years to come up with a new law that reflected the ruling.

8. Glimmers of Hope in Mexico

then-President Felipe Calderon unleashed the latest chapter of the country's drug wars, bringing violence to levels not seen before in the country, Mexico is showing signs it is ready for change. The death toll from prohibition-related violence is higher than ever, and that is impelling a psh for change, most notably with the election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is very open to finding exits from the drug war, whether it's legalized opium production in Guerrero, granting amnesty for non-violent drug trafficking offenders, or legalizing marijuana. And speaking of legalizing marijuana, the Mexican Supreme Court in November struck down the ban on marijuana possession, cultivation, and use. Now, Lopez Obrador's governing MORENA Party has filed a bill to legalize marijuana sales. Tackling the violence, may be a bit more difficult.

9. Colombia Sees a Record Coca Crop as US Cocaine Deaths Rise

Efforts to reduce coca cultivation and cocaine production in the country after the peace agreement with the FARC rebels have not gone well, and that's causing rising worry in Washington. In June, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that 2017 production was at an all-time high, prompting expressions of concern from the drug czar's office and support from President Trump for new rightist Colombian President Ivan Duque's "head-on fight against drug trafficking." That could include a renewed resort to aerial fumigation, even drones, as well as forced eradication of coca crops, leading to renewed conflict in cultivation zones. Meanwhile, cocaine is now the third leading cause of drug overdose deaths, trailing only fentanyl and heroin.

Vienna International Centre, home to the UN drug agencies
10. Historic UN Cannabis Review Hits Last-Minute Procedural Delay

In June and again in November, the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) of the World Health Organization (WHO) met to consider the evidence on cannabis (marijuana) and its placement in the UN drug scheduling system, which determines whether or what level of control the UN drug conventions mandate that countries maintain for the substance. The conventions specify that substances should receive such an evaluation before being scheduled, but that never happened for marijuana. Observers believe the process should lead to marijuana being moved to a less restrictive schedule than it is in currently -- if the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) votes to adopt such a recommendation from ECDD.

That didn't happen when, earlier this month, WHO voted to delay release of ECDD's recommendations until January, for unexplained reasons. That may mean they get taken up at the main annual CND meeting in Vienna in March, rather than December's intersessional. The delay seems unusual, and probably political, but its intent is unclear.

The next few months may tell. In the meanwhile, ECDD says that CBD shouldn't be scheduled at all. But that didn't stop the US FDA from saying that treaties require it be scheduled, even though they also think it shouldn't be.

Chronicle AM: Feds Warn on Denver Safe Injection Site, It's J-Day in Michigan, More... (12/6/18)

Michigan became the first legal marijuana state in the Midwest today, the feds send a shot across the bow of an effort to get a safe injection site up and running in Denver, cartel violence challenges Mexico's new president, and more.

[Errata: This article initially reported incorrectly that driving under the influence of marijuana under MIchigan's legalization law would result in a ticket. DUI remains a felony in Michigan.]

Today Michigan becomes the first legal marijuana state in the Midwest.
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Marijuana Legalization Now in Effect. As of today, it is legal to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to 12 plants in Michigan. There is no public smoking allowed and driving under the influence remains a crime. The state's system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales, however, is not expected to be up and running until 2020. [This article initially reported incorrectly that marijuana DUIs would result in getting a ticket. DUI remains a felony in Michigan.]

New Yorkers Want to Legalize Marijuana to Fix the Subway. Lawmakers are eyeing legal marijuana tax revenues as a means of helping to modernize New York City's subway system. Subway officials say they'll need $40 billion to upgrade, and legal weed could help. "The biggest issue we hear about as elected officials is the state of the subway system," said Corey Johnson, the New York City Council speaker. "To be able to tie these things together is something that could be highly impactful and potentially transformative."

Harm Reduction

Denver DEA, US Attorney Warn City on Safe Injection Sites. As city and county officials move toward establishing a safe injection site for drug users, representatives of the federal government are warning that they are illegal and anyone involved could be looking at years in federal prison. In a joint statement, the feds were blunt: "Foremost, the operation of such sites is illegal under federal law. 21 U.S.C. Sec. 856 prohibits the maintaining of any premises for the purpose of using any controlled substance. Potential penalties include forfeiture of the property, criminal fines, civil monetary penalties up to $250,000, and imprisonment up to 20 years in jail for anyone that knowingly opens, leases, rents, maintains, or anyone that manages or controls and knowingly and intentionally makes available such premises for use (whether compensated or otherwise). Other federal laws likely apply as well." The feds also argued that safe injection sites don't actually produce claimed harm reduction benefits and that "these facilities will actually increase public safety risks" by "attracting drug dealers, sexual predators, and other criminals." Those claims are, at best, debatable.

International

Mexican Cartel Gunmen Kill Six Cops in Deadliest Attack of the AMLO Era. In the deadliest attack since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) took office last Saturday, gunmen of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel attacked police transporting a prisoner in Jalisco state, leaving six police officers dead. The attackers came in three vehicles and escaped, setting up roadblocks of burning vehicles they had commandeered. AMLO came into office pledging to quell widespread cartel violence.

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