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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.

Two NYPD Cops Charged with Raping Teen After Busting Her for Marijuana

A New York City grand jury indicted two Brooklyn narcotics officers late last week on charges they raped an 18-year-old woman after arresting her for smoking marijuana. The alleged victim says she was assaulted while handcuffed in the back of a police van in the parking lot of a Chipotle restaurant in September.

The two narcotics officers, Eddie Martins and Richard Hall, now face charges of first degree rape. The alleged victim, who posts on social media under the name Anna Chambers, including posts about the case, says that both narcs forced her to perform oral sex on them, and that one of them raped her. She alleges that she and two young men were pulled over by Martins and Hall for smoking pot, and that they targeted her after finding prescription drugs in the car. The narcs told her companions to leave before ordering her to undress so they could "search for drugs."

They didn't find any drugs on her, but handcuffed the teen anyway before coercing her into sex, her attorney, Michael David, told the New York Post.

"You'll spend three hours in the precinct," they allegedly told her. They also allegedly said: "This is what you're going to do for us, and we'll let you go," David said.

"There was zero consent," David said. "The cops were over 6 feet tall. She's very petite, like 5-2 and maybe 100 pounds. There's nothing she could do."

The grand jury issued the indictments October 26 after hearing a week of testimony, including testimony on the stand from Chambers herself. The narcs were not arrested upon indictment, but are expected to turn themselves in this week. They have been placed on modified duty and stripped of their guns and badges and are now suspended without pay. They're looking at between three and 25 years in prison if convicted.

The detectives, from NYPD's Brooklyn South narcotics squad, have not denied that they engaged in sex acts with the alleged victim, but claimed they were consensual. They also spent the past week trying to discredit and impugn their accuser.

In a letter to prosecutors, lawyers for the narcs pointed out that she had filed a $50 million claim against the city in October and that she had posted "provocative" selfies on her Instagram and Twitter accounts after the assault. The lawyers called on prosecutors "to further investigate Chambers' dubious claim before you ask the grand jury to return an indictment against Martins and Hall."

Chambers furiously rejects the narcs' claim that the sex was consensual, her lawyer said.

"She was shocked that the [cops] would say it was consensual after everything that was done to her. She wanted to get the word out," David explained. 'She just wants everybody to know it's an absolute lie that this was consensual. She was raped. She was viciously, brutally raped in handcuffs. It's the truth," he said.

"She's embarrassed," David continued. "She's very depressed over this. Her whole life had changed after this experience. She's afraid of the police, and she really wants justice to be served here."

After the attack, Chambers did what victims are supposed to do: She sought help at NYU Langone Hospital, which performed a rape kit on her that found the cops' DNA. She reported a sexual assault to police. She confided to friends after it happened. And she filed a civil lawsuit. And now, the criminal justice system swings into action against the perpetrators.

One of the reasons the war on drugs is so loathed is that it provides the opportunity for crooked cops to abuse their power in ways that have been alleged in this case. One wonders how many similarly abused women have not come forward.

New York, NY
United States

Three More Drug War Deaths This Month

A SWAT team member in Ohio shot and killed an unarmed businessman, and SWAT teams in South Carolina and Mississippi killed two more people in drug enforcement on the same day this week. There is also news on some past drug war killings.

This month's drug war killings bring the Drug War Chronicle's count of people killed in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year to 49. The figure only includes people who died as a direct result of the drug war.

  • In Ohio, 27-year-old Omar Ali died October 5, two weeks after he was shot and wounded by a SWAT officer during a September raid on his Akron hookah store. Police were investigating Ali for drug sales when they broke down the door to his business, then encountered him in the main room of his shop. Police said they ordered him to put his hands up, but he allegedly refused those commands and reached toward the back of his waistband. The unnamed SWAT officer then shot him. Police found no weapon in his waistband. What they did find was 2.8 grams of heroin and five doses of Suboxone hidden in his butt-crack.
  • In Florida, a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office SWAT team shot and killed an armed drug suspect during a residential drug raid Wednesday afternoon. The dead man has not yet been named. Police said they were preparing to break down the door to the home when they encountered the man armed with a hand gun. He allegedly turned to confront them, and was then shot and killed by Officer Nicholas Rodgers. The dead suspect didn't fire a shot. Police said they found cocaine and more guns when they searched the residence.
  • In Mississippi, a drug suspect was killed and a deputy wounded during a Monroe County SWAT drug raid Wednesday morning. The dead man has not yet been identified. Sheriff Cecil Cantrell explained that it all began with a traffic stop: "Basically, we did a traffic stop on a vehicle and he had quite a bit of drugs in there, ice (crystal meth)," Cantrell said. "We talked to him and asked him where he got the drugs, and he told us where he bought them. And we got a search warrant and went down to this gentleman's house. When we got there the SWAT team went down to the house. When they got to the back door, he opened the door and started shooting, wounded one of my deputies. The deputies shot back. Those were seasoned deputies who were on that SWAT team, and they had no choice but to shoot back. And that person is deceased now."

Please note that in all three cases, as in many other cases of drug war violence, the only account available is that from police.

Meanwhile, there is also news on a pair of earlier cases of drug war deaths.

  • In California, the El Centro Police and four named officers are being sued over the 2012 death of Charles Sampson during a drug investigation. A police body camera video picked up police threatening to arrest Sampson and his family members if he didn't tell them where he had hidden drugs. Police also said a drug dog had alerted on the residence, but they later revised that statement, and they didn't find any drugs in the house. Sampson became ill, apparently after ingesting methamphetamine, but when family members called 911 for an ambulance, police told the dispatcher to ignore all calls from the house because Sampson was "putting on a show." Only two hours later was Sampson taken to a hospital, and only because a police officer ignored instructions to take him to jail. The lawsuit goes to trial in May 2016.
  • And in South Carolina, prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against the police officer who shot and killed unarmed teenager Zachary Hammond during a pot bust in July. Hammond was the driver of a car parked at a fast food restaurant, and the girl in the passenger seat had just arranged a pot deal with a person who turned out to be an undercover cop. When the cops pulled up, Hammond began to attempt to drive away and was shot twice by Officer Mark Tiller. Tiller claimed self-defense, although video showed Hammond's car already passing Tiller when he opened fire. But Solicitor Chrissy Adams said Tiller would face no charges.

Chronicle AM: NV Pot Init Will Go to Voters Next Year, Dark Web Drug Bust, Saudis Behead Three, More (3/13/15)

Nevada is the first state in line to legalize it in 2016 after the legislature failed to act this week, a controversial Ohio legalization initiative wins a preliminary approval to move forward, there was a major dark web drug bust in Germany this week, and more.

thousands of ecstasy pills seized by German police in bust of one vendor on one dark web drug sales site
Marijuana

DC Cannabis Campaign to Host Pot Seed Exchange. The folks behind the Measure 71 marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative will be hosting two seed exchanges this month. "This will be DC residents' opportunity to share seeds with other adults and start down the path of legally growing your own cannabis in the safety and privacy of your home," the campaign announced Thursday.

Nevada Will Vote on Marijuana Legalization Next Year. After the state legislature failed to act by a deadline today, marijuana legalization is headed to the ballot next year. Initiative organizers have already taken all the necessary steps for the vote to take place. The legislature could have approved the initiative itself, but instead punted. Read the initiative here.

Ohio Attorney General Approves Petition Summary for Responsible Ohio Legalization Initiative. The attorney general's approval means ResponsibleOhio now goes to the Ohio Ballot Board for its approval. Their meeting will take place in about 10 days. Read the ResponsibleOhio initiative here. If the Ballot Board approves, ResponsibleOhio must then gather 305,591 valid signatures of registered Ohio voters from at least 44 of 88 counties to get the measure on the fall ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Medical Marijuana Bill Gets New GOP Cosponsor. A second Republican senator has signed on to the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act (Senate Bill 683). Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) joins fellow Republican Sen. Rand Paul (KY) and Democrats Cory Booker (NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY).

Georgia Senate Passes Restrictive CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The Senate passed Senate Bill 185, which would allow parents bringing CBD cannabis oil into the state to treat their children with epilepsy to be exempted from criminal prosecution, but would not allow medical marijuana in any other form and would not let adults or children with other diseases use it. The House has passed a broader CBD bill; the Senate Health Committee chair has promised it will try to reconcile the two bills.

International

China Withdraws UN Motion to Make Ketamine a Controlled Substance. After lobbying from Canadian researchers and others who said ketamine is a crucial anesthetic for poorer countries, China today withdrew its motion before the UN Committee on Narcotic Drugs to schedule the drug. The Chinese said they would defer their resolution for another year so ketamine can be studied more.

Germans in Major Dark Web Drug Bust. Police in Leipzig announced yesterday that they had raided 38 locations and arrested seven people, as well as seizing more than 700 pounds of cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, amphetamines, marijuana, and hash. The bust was of only one seller on the dark website Evolution, but the Deep Dot Web blog, which closely tracks the online narcotics trade, calls the law enforcement operation the biggest Dark Web drug bust ever. Still, the vendor busted represented only a fraction of the 20,000 drug listings on Evolution, and that's just one dark web drug sales site.

Saudi Arabia Beheads Three For Drug Smuggling. A Yemeni, a Syrian, and a Saudi national were executed in the kingdom this week for smuggling amphetamines and hashish into the country. That makes about 20 drug executions so far this year in the county, about half of the 43 executions reported so far.

Florida Cops Sell Man Drugs in Sting, Then Gun Him Down

Police conducting an undercover, street-level, reverse drug sting in Putnam County, Florida, shot and killed one of their targets Friday night as he attempted to drive away from the scene. Andrew Anthony Williams, a 48-year-old black man, becomes the 11th person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to local press accounts, all relying on law enforcement sources, deputies and detectives from the Putnam County Sheriff's Office were conducting a "reverse sting" where they posed as drug dealers, sold unwary customers small amounts of drugs, and then arrested them.

Deputies had successfully sold drugs to and arrested 10 people, but when they identified themselves and tried to arrest Williams, who was number 11, he declined. "[H]e drove away quickly and hit a tree," the St. Augustine Record reported.  "The man next backed up toward the deputies, then put the vehicle into drive and turned toward some of them, the Sheriff’s Office said. Four deputies fired at the oncoming vehicle almost simultaneously, the Sheriff's Office said."

News 4 Jax had it this way: "…when they tried to arrest Williams, he took off in a blue SUV and, swerving to avoid deputies, ran into a tree. Williams then backed up and tried to take off again toward deputies causing four of them to open fire on Williams SUV, hitting him an unknown number of times."  

Williams was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. One deputy was wounded in the gunfire, but that bullet came from another deputy's gun, according to the Sheriff's Office. (In the headline for its story about the incident, News 4 Jax neglected to mention that anyone had been killed, going with "Putnam County deputy hit by bullet fired at suspect.")

The Sheriff's Office did not identify the four deputies involved in the shooting, but was quick to make available Williams' criminal history, which including charges for drugs, fleeing, eluding, resisting arrest, and battery on a law enforcement officer.

The four deputies are on paid administrative leave.

This killing should raise a few questions, both about the nature of the operation itself and about what actually occurred.

Reverse drug stings are a controversial tactic, sometimes arguably justifiable at the higher echelons of the drug trade, where selling sizeable quantities of drugs to a player to see where they go help crack a drug ring, but that logic isn’t at work here, where the only result is to round up some street drug buyers and drag them into the criminal justice system. Is having deputies pretend to be drug dealers to bust small-time users really the county's best use of its law enforcement resources?

And then there's the no-witness "he was going to run me over" defense used by the police to justify the killing. It happens not infrequently. Williams may have decided that getting busted on a minor dope charge was worth trying to murder a group of police officers with his vehicle. But could it have been that he was just trying to get away?

It'll be up to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which investigates officer-involved killings, to get to the bottom of it. 

Keystone Heights, FL
United States

Chronicle AM: 2016 Plans, Silk Road 2.0 Busted, Canada & Jamaica React to Marijuana Votes, More (11/6/14)

Marijuana reform activists are already eyeing 2016, and so is former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, the FBI busts the latest incarnation of Silk Road, Tuesday's vote brings some joy in Canada and Jamaica, and more. Let's get to it:

Gary Johnson eyes a 2016 presidential bid (ouramericainitiative.com)
Marijuana Policy

Only 733 Days Until California Legalizes Marijuana. That's the message from the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, which is already laying the groundwork for a successful statewide marijuana legalization in 2016. Check it out.

Missouri Group Files Petition to Legalize Marijuana in 2016. The activist group Show-Me Cannabis filed a petition Wednesday for a constitutional amendment initiative to legalize marijuana in 2016. It must now undergo a review and public comment process. Once approved, supporters will have to gather 165,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Drug Policy

Drug Legalizer Gary Johnson Will Run for President (Again) in 2016. Former Republican New Mexico governor, 2012 Republican presidential nomination seeker, and 2012 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson has announced he will run for president again in 2016. He picked up 1.3 million votes as the Libertarian candidate last time. He said he was running as a counter to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who he said was only half-right on the issues.

Law Enforcement

FBI Busts Silk Road 2.0. The FBI has arrested a 26-year-old man for allegedly running the resurrected dark web online drug sales web site Silk Road 2.0. Blake Benthall was arrested in San Francisco Thursday. The original Silk Road allegedly generated over a billion dollars in sales before it was busted and its original operator, Ross Ulbricht, was arrested. Silk Road 2.0 was launched a year ago and allegedly was doing $8 million a month in sales, with over 13,000 different listings for controlled substances. Don't be surprised when Silk Road 3.0 pops up.

International

Canada Activists, Liberals Celebrate US Marijuana Legalization Votes. "I'm very happy today," said Vancouver activist Dana Larsen, who led the not yet successful drive for pot decriminalization in British Columbia last year. "It's pouring rain outside, but that's okay, it's sunshining in our hearts. The final argument from prohibitionists in Canada has always been, 'If you legalize it, America will punish us… they'll shut down our border.' That's always been the last refuge of the prohibitionists. [President] Obama is not even punishing his own states for legalizing it. It will definitely make it much easier [for a future Canadian government to legalize it.]" The Liberal Party was also pleased. "Last night, voters in Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, DC expressed their democratic will and supported the legalization of marijuana," a party spokesperson said. "A well-regulated, legal system for marijuana access promotes public safety, keeps profits out of the hands of gangs, and helps keep drugs out of the hand of children -- exactly what Liberals have been saying all along."

Jamaica Ganja Task Force Hails US Marijuana Legalization Votes. Canadians weren't the only ones smiling. Jamaica's Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Research Task Force called the legalization votes in Alaska, Colorado, and Washington, DC, "positive developments" and urged the Jamaican government to get moving. "The CCMRT, while acknowledging the Jamaican government's positive positioning on ganja law reform, urge them to move more decisively at fundamental reform so as to ensure that Jamaica is not left behind," the group said.

Mexican Mayor and Wife Arrested in Case of Missing Student Teachers. Mexican authorities announced Tuesday that they had arrested fugitive former Iguala mayor Jose Luiz Abarca and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, in a pre-dawn raid in a Mexico City working class suburb. They fled after 43 radical student teachers went missing more than a month ago in the midst of anti-government demonstrations. Pineda is a accused of being the chief operative of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang, to whom the students were handed after being detained by Iguala police. The case is causing huge tremors in a country sick to death of official corruption and impunity.

This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Mexican Coca, Saudis Behead Another Trafficker, Feds Raid LA Fashion District, More (9/11/14)

A federal CBD medical marijuana bill picks up more sponsors, so does a federal asset forfeiture reform bill, Georgia advocates want whole whole plant medical marijuana, Mexico's first coca patch is busted, Saudi Arabia beheads another drug offender, and more. Let's get to it:

Coca plant. Mexico has found its first plantation. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

York, Maine, Selectmen Refuse to Put Legalization Initiative on Ballot, But… Town selectmen voted against putting the initiative from Citizens for a Safer Maine on the November ballot, but since petitioners have already gathered sufficient signatures to force the issue, they can get their petition notarized to be placed on the ballot. York will join Lewiston and South Portland in voting on initiatives this year; Portland approved one last year.

Medical Marijuana

Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act Picks Up More Sponsors. The Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act (HR 5226), which would exclude cannabidiol (CBD) from the definition of marijuana, has gained new sponsors. It now has 19 cosponsors -- 11 Democrats and eight Republicans. The latest are Reps. Ann Wagner (R-MO), Matthew Cartwright (D-PA), and Chris Stewart (R-UT).

Georgia Advocates Call for Whole Plant Medical Marijuana, Not Just CBD Oil. As legislative hearings in Macon continue to examine the use of CBD oil, medical marijuana advocates are calling for whole plant medical marijuana. "The cannabis plant contains many compounds that have proven to be effective in treating a variety of conditions," said Georgia C.A.R.E director James Bell. "We should not be determining who can and cannot benefit from this healing plant."

Asset Forfeiture

Civil Asset Forfeiture Act Picks Up New Sponsors. The bill, HR 5212, now has five cosponsors. The latest are Reps. Stevan Pearce (R-NM), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), and Reid Ribble (R-WI). All cosponsors so far are Republicans. The bill, filed by Rep. Tim Wahlberg (R-MI), would increase citizen protections against federal asset forfeiture actions.

Law Enforcement

Feds Raid LA Fashion District in Cartel Money Laundering Probe. More than a thousand law enforcement officers spread out across LA's fashion district Wednesday, raiding more than 60 warehouses, storefronts, and residences, arresting nine people and seizing $65 million in cash that they said was being laundered for Mexican drug trafficking organizations. The feds called the mass bust Operation Fashion Police.

International

OAS Head Claims Regional Consensus on Drug Reform. Speaking in front of the Inter-American Dialog in Washington, DC, Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza said Wednesday that regional leaders have reached consensus on four drug policy reform issues: to emphasize a public health approach, to seek out alternatives to incarceration, to stay strong against organized crime, and to work on strengthening regional institutions. Insulza's remarks come ahead of an OAS Special General Assembly to be held in Guatemala next week.

Mexico's First Coca Plantation Discovered in Chiapas. Mexican soldiers have seized more than 1,600 coca plants being cultivated in southern Chiapas state, near the Guatemalan border. Mexican military and UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) officials said it was the first time coca planting had been discovered in the country. "It's a pretty troubling discovery," said UNODC Mexico representative Antonio Mazzitelli. It could amount to "a small-scale experiment to see if there is a possibility of replicating" coca production in Mexico. Coca is currently grown only in the Andes, although there is nothing stopping it from being cultivated elsewhere.

Saudi Arabia Beheads Another Drug Offender. Authorities in Saudi Arabia Tuesday beheaded a Pakistani national convicted of smuggling "a large quantity of heroin." They have executed at least seven other drug traffickers in recent weeks, and 49 people overall so far this year. It's unclear how many of the 49 were drug offenders.

Chronicle AM -- August 11, 2014

Germans march for marijuana, Washington state takes in a million in taxes from the first month of pot sales, New Mexico local decriminalization initiatives struggle to make the ballot, Central Florida cops make a bunch of small-time drug busts, a new poll has some old results on the success of the drug war, and more. Let's get to it:

Poster for last Saturday's Hemp Parade (Hanfparade) in Berlin.
Marijuana Policy

$3.8 Million in Marijuana Sales in Washington's First Month. The Washington State Liquor Control Board reported last Friday that the first month of legal marijuana retailing generated $3.8 million in gross sales. The state expects to collect about $1 million in tax revenues from the sales. That's about half of what Colorado did in its first month, but Washington is off to a slower start, with only 18 stores selling weed in July.

Gavin Newsom Says He Will Support Marijuana Legalization on 2016 California Ballot. California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) says he will support whatever marijuana legalization initiative makes the ballot in 2016. That will probably be the one he is working on as part of a California ACLU task force studying legalization. The task force hopes to release a report on the issues around legalization by year's end.

Santa Fe Decriminalization Initiative Hands in More Signatures. After coming up short after their first signature hand-in, ProgressNow New Mexico and Drug Policy Action, the campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, the sponsors of the Santa Fe decriminalization initiative, handed in additional signatures last Friday. The ballot initiative calls for making the penalty for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana and possession of marijuana-associated paraphernalia a civil infraction punishable by a fine of no more than $25.

Albuquerque Decriminalization Initiative Comes Up Short on Signatures. Sponsors of an Albuquerque decriminalization initiative -- the same folks involved in the Santa Fe initiative -- came up with only 9,172 valid voter signatures, short of the 14,218 needed to qualify for the ballot. The city had originally said they needed only 11,000 signatures, and there was talk of legal action if sponsors met the original goal, but they didn't even manage to do that.

Medical Marijuana

Northern Arizona University Rejects Dr. Sue Sisley Medical Marijuana Research Proposal. Dr. Sue Sisley, who was fired by the University of Arizona over what she says is her support medical marijuana, has lost a bid to do her study at the University of Northern Arizona. She had received FDA approval and a $1 million grant from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies to study its effects on PTSD in veterans, but that study is now in limbo until she finds a new home for it.

Guam to Vote on Medical Marijuana Initiative in November. The Guam Electoral Commission last Thursday approved putting the Joaquin "KC" Concepcion II Compassionate Cannabis Use Act of 2013 on the November ballot. The act would allow for the creation of medical marijuana dispensaries, with regulations and rules to be developed later by a government commission. The commission had balked at the move, but a Guam Supreme Court decision earlier last week said the legislature has the right to put measures before the voters. Under Guam law, the referendum must get more than 50% of the voters of all voters who vote in the general election, not just a simple majority.

Clock Ticking on Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Initiative. Oklahomans for Health, the group behind the state's effort to get a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot, is running out of time. The group has until Friday to turn in 150,000 valid voter signatures, but it has so far gathered only 120,000 raw signatures. With a typical disqualification rate of 20-30%, the group would likely need more than 200,000 raw signatures to make the ballot.

Illinois Medical Marijuana Licensing Starts Next Month. Patients and caregivers wanting to enroll in the state's medical marijuana program can begin applying for licenses on September 2, state officials said last Friday. Application materials are available at the web site for the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program.

Utah Issues First Registration Cards for High-CBD Cannabis Oil Treatment. The Department of Health has issued registration cards to 11 patients for its new program allowing people with severe epilepsy to use high-CBD cannabis oil. People with the cards can legally possess high-CBD cannabis oil, but they will have to get it out of state. The main producer of the extract, next door in Colorado, has a lengthy waiting list.

Drug Policy

Rasmussen Poll: 84% Say War on Drugs is Being Lost. A new Rasmussen Poll finds that 84% believe the nation is losing the war on drugs. Only 3% though it was winning. Americans are split on financing the drug war, with one third saying we're spending too much, 29% saying not enough, 17% saying spending levels are about right, and 22% unsure. The poll also has Americans split down the middle on marijuana legalization, with 43% for and 43% against. Click on the link for more details.

Law Enforcement

Polk County, Florida, Narcs Make String of Petty Drug Busts. The Polk County Sheriff's Department narcotics unit, the joint state-federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Task Force, and Haines City Police combined to make a string of drug busts last week, arresting 17 people. But a perusal of the charges shows that they were primarily low-level. Twelve of the charges involved simple drug possession, most of them for marijuana, and many of them with the additional charge of being within 1,000 feet of a church. Most of the other charges were for small-time marijuana sales, again within 1,000 feet of a church. A handful of the arrests also involved other drugs, usually for possession or small-time sales. The arrests appeared to target the local African-American community.

International

Thousands March for Marijuana in Germany. Thousands of people calling for marijuana legalization marched through Berlin on Saturday for the city's annual Hemp Parade (Hanfparade). This year's slogan was "Green Light for Legalization," with marchers hoping legalization in Uruguay and two US states will lead to the same in Germany.

Chronicle AM -- July 11, 2014

A St. Paul drug raid is raising questions about police tactics, the hemp industry wants to clarify something, Tennessee gets its first bust under a law criminalizing drug-using pregnant women (and its first threat of a legal challenge), Pennsylvania issues opiate prescribing guidelines, and more. Let's get to it:

One of the two dogs killed in a St. Paul SWAT team raid that scored a bong and a grinder. (family photo)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Municipal Decriminalization Initiatives Halfway There on Signatures. Decriminalization initiative signature-gathering campaigns in Albuquerque and Santa Fe are at the halfway point in terms of signatures gathered. Two groups, Progress Now New Mexico and Drug Policy Action, the campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, are leading the effort. The campaigns reported having half the 5,673 signatures needed in Santa Fe. They also need 11,203 signatures in Albuquerque; organizers say they are more than halfway there in the Duke City as well.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Governor Names 16 to Medical Marijuana Task Force. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) has named the members of a state task force charged with monitoring the effectiveness of the state's new limited medical marijuana law. Included are four patients or their parents, four law enforcement entities, four substance abuse treatment providers and four health care providers. It also includes two lawmakers each from the House and Senate, as well as the commissioners of Health, Human Services and Public Safety. Click on the link for a list of members.

Hemp

Hemp Industries Association Clarifies That CBD Extracts Are Not "Hemp Oil." The trade group the Hemp Industries Association has released a statement emphasizing that cannabidiol (CBD) extracts are not "hemp oil" and warning against misbranding them as such. The CBD extracts are made from marijuana flowers for medicinal purposes, while hemp oil, produced by pressing hemp seeds, is a food item containing only tiny amounts of CBD. Click on the link to read the full statement.

Pregnancy

First Woman Arrested Under Tennessee's New Law Criminalizing Pregnant Women Who Use Drugs. A 26-year-old Monroe County woman has been charged with assault on her fetus for using methamphetamine shortly before she gave birth under a new law that allows prosecutors to press assault and child endangerment charges against women who use drugs. Under that law, "a woman may be prosecuted for assault for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug." But neither doctors nor prosecutors have shown any harm to the woman's newborn baby.

Tennessee ACLU Seeking to Challenge New Law Criminalizing Pregnant Women Who Use Drugs. The ACLU of Tennessee is currently seeking plaintiffs to challenge the new law criminalizing pregnant women who use drugs. The law is the first of its kind in the country. "This dangerous law unconstitutionally singles out new mothers struggling with addiction for criminal assault charges," said Thomas Castelli, Tennessee ACLU legal director. "By focusing on punishing women rather than promoting healthy pregnancies, the state is only deterring women struggling with alcohol or drug dependency from seeking the pre-natal care they need. ACLU-TN stands ready to challenge this law and encourages any woman concerned about the impact this law will have on her to contact us." Click on the link for more information.

Prescription Opiates

Pennsylvania Releases Guidelines for Prescribing Opiates. State officials and the Pennsylvania Medical Society have released new voluntary opiate prescribing guidelines as part of an effort to reduce overdose deaths. The guidelines are aimed at family practice doctors who are not pain treatment specialists. A University of Wisconsin pain policy specialist, James Cleary, said the guidelines were "very responsible," but raised concerns that opiates remain available for those who truly need them. Task force members responded that finding the proper balance was critical.

Law Enforcement

St. Paul SWAT Drug Raid Scores Bong, Grinder; Leaves Two Dogs Dead. A St. Paul, Minnesota, police SWAT team executing a no-knock search warrant at a family home burst through the front door without notice at 7:00am and promptly shot and killed the family's two pet pit bulls. "The first thing I heard was 'boom,'" said homeowner Larry Lee Arman. "Bop, bop, bop, bop, bop. Right in front of us. I was laying right there and I really thought I was being murdered," he said "I don't want to say by who. I thought it was, like, the government." Police said they thought they were entering a dangerous environment and had a right to eliminate potential threats with lethal force, but Arman said he wasn't a dangerous drug dealer, only a pot smoker. The SWAT team's haul seems to bear him out. They seized only "clothing, a glass bong, and suspected marijuana remnants in a metal grinder."

International

New York Times Takes a Look at Barcelona's Cannabis Clubs. The New York Times has a lengthy profile of Barcelona's burgeoning cannabis social club scene. It reports that the clubs, where members may buy and consume marijuana, now have 165,000 members, and that they are creating marijuana tourism. Officials are concerned.

Barcelona Police Arrest Cannabis Club Leaders. Police in Barcelona Friday arrested the president and at least three other members of the city's cannabis club federation FEDCAC. The group said it was not told why they were arrested, but other Spanish press reports said it was on money laundering charges. The bust comes as the city tries to crack down on the burgeoning clubs, which are legal under Spanish law, but have been testing the limits.

Transnational Institute Analyzes Colombia/FARC Accord on Drugs, Finds It Lacking. In a policy briefing on the Colombian peace accords, the Transnational Institute finds that FARC guerrillas are only "part of the problem" in the "complex scenario" of Colombian drug trafficking; that it effectively excludes rural settlers, indigenous and African-descent communities; that the agreement ratifies existing prohibition-based approaches to drugs; and that it ignores the ongoing progress in adopting other drug control models. Other than that…

Chronicle AM -- June 24, 2014

Your fearless reporter has been traveling, so the schedule is off, but the drug policy news continues. Paul Stanford calls it quits in Oregon, pot shops are coming within days in Washington, an Alabama drug task needs to reconsider its priorities (or maybe the people funding it need to reconsider theirs), and more. Let's get to it:

Coming soon to a store near you -- if you live in Washington state.
Marijuana Policy

Paul Stanford Pulls Plug on Oregon CRRH Initiative. Paul Stanford, the man behind the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp legalization initiatives, announced Friday that had given up the effort to qualify for the November ballot. That leaves the New Approach Oregon initiative, which is well over 100,000 signatures. It needs some 87,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, and the campaign still has another week to get more signers.

Washington State Liquor Control Board Says First Marijuana Retail Stores Will Open July 8. The board, which is charge of legal marijuana commerce, said it will issue the first licenses July 7, but that the licensees would have to spend that first day getting their product into their store tracking programs.

Medical Marijuana

Rhode Island Legislature Amends Medical Marijuana Law. The legislature has amended the state's medical marijuana law to require national criminal background checks on all caregiver applicants and the mandatory revocation of the caregiver registry ID cards for those convicted of a felony. The bill, House Bill 7610, won final approval by the Senate last Friday. It also allows landlords not to lease to cardholders who want to grow and imposes weight, plant, and seedling limits on growing co-ops.

Collateral Consequences

Missouri Governor Signs Bill to End Food Stamp Ban for Drug Felons -- With Conditions. Gov. Jay Nixon signed into a law a bill that would allow people with drug felonies to obtain food stamps, but only if they submit to drug tests and an assessment to see if they need drug treatment, which they must enroll in and complete if they are determined to need it. The bill is Senate Bill 680. The 1996 federal welfare reform law banned drug felons from obtaining food stamps, but allowed states to opt out. By now, more than 30 have.

Opiates

Federal Bill Targeting Heroin, Prescription Opiates Filed. US Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) have filed legislation that seeks to respond to rising levels of opiate use by creating a "Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force" to develop prescribing practices that aim to ensure "proper pain management for patients, while also preventing prescription opioid abuse." Along with federal agencies such as HHS, Defense, the VA, and the DEA, the task force would include treatment providers, people from pain advocacy groups and pain professional organization, and experts in pain research and addiction research. Pain advocates will be watching carefully. The bill, Senate Bill 2504, would also provide grants to expand prescription drug monitoring programs.

Law Enforcement

Texas to Spend $1.3 Million a Week on "Border Surge" Aimed at Immigrants, Drugs. Using the influx of underage immigrants across the US-Mexican border as a jumping off point, Texas authorities announced last week they plan to spend $30 million this year tightening border security, with a major emphasis on law enforcement and cutting drug flows. Gov. Rick Perry (R) has also asked President Obama to send a thousand National Guard troops, to be joined by hundreds of Texas troopers Perry is deploying to the border. What this will mean on the ground is more troopers patrolling the highways, more surveillance, more undercover operations -- in an area already sinking under the weight of the billions spent beefing up border security since 9/11.

Alabama Drug Task Force Gets Busy With Chump Change Drug Round-Up. The West Alabama Narcotics Task Force based in Tuscaloosa arrested 24 people last Friday in a round-up that "stemmed from multiple ongoing investigations." But they were almost entirely charges like "unlawful sale of marijuana within three miles of a school" ($30,000 bond), "unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia" ($5,000 bond), and "unlawful possession of marijuana" ($15,000 bond). Only five of the charges didn't involve marijuana, and of those, three were for possession of a controlled substance, two were "unlawful sale of cocaine within three miles of a school," and one was for "interfering with government operations."

International

Vietnam Upholds Death Sentences for 29 Drug Smugglers. A Vietnamese appellate court last Thursday upheld the death sentences for 29 people convicted. The court reduced one other death sentence in the case to life in prison. The sentences came in what is Vietnam's largest heroin case ever, with 89 defendants and 1.5 tons of heroin involved.

Bolivia Coca Cultivation Drops to 11-Year Low. Coca cultivation declined 9% in Bolivia last, reaching the lowest level since 2002, according to the annual Bolivian coca survey conducted by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). This is the third straight decline, in line with the Bolivian government's commitment to reduce production to 50,000 acres by 2015. The 2013 crop was about 55,000 acres.

British Medical Association to Debate Legalizing Marijuana. Britain's largest doctors' organization will debate a motion calling on it to legalize marijuana as its Annual Representatives Meeting continues this week after a weekend hiatus. "The current law isn't working and only by adopting a different approach can we regulate, educate and exert a level of quality control," the motion says. "Cannabis use should be treated primarily as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue."

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