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Trump's Afghanistan "Taliban Heroin Lab" Bombing Campaign is Just More Drug War Theater [FEATURE]

On the night of November 19, small-time Afghan opium trader Hajii Habibullah finished his day's business at the local opium bazaar in Musa Qala, in Helmand province, and headed home to his family. He never saw the sunrise.

Afghan poppy fields account for about 90% of the global opium crop. (UNODC)
Helmand province is a poppy-growing powerhouse that for years has been hotly contested terrain in the battle between Taliban insurgents and the Afghan government and NATO forces. Under new authority from the Trump White House allowing the US military to "attack the enemy across the breadth and the depth of the battle space, and also functionally, to attack their financial networks, their revenue streams," US and Afghan warplanes mounted bombing raids on "Taliban drug labs," targeting three districts in Helmand. That night, Musa Qala was target one in a dramatic escalation in US Afghanistan policy.

In a press briefing two days later, Gen. John Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan guided reporters through videos documenting the attacks, with bomb blasts destroying small structures as the general narrated strikes by US B-52s and F-22 Raptors. The raid in Musa Qala destroyed "millions" in "opium cooking at the time of the strike," repeatedly emphasizing how careful the raids were to minimize "collateral" casualties.

But the first bombs to fall on Musa Qala didn't fall on a "Taliban narcotics production facility." They fell on Hajii Habibullah's house, killing him, his wife, his seven-year-old daughter, four sons aged between three and eight, as well as a visiting adult daughter and her year-old daughter. Only the son-in-law sleeping in a guest house on the property survived.

That's according to on-the-scene field research contained in a report released last month by the London School of Economics International Drug Policy Unit. The analysis, written by Dr. David Mansfield, who has been conducting research on rural economies and poppy cultivation in Afghanistan for the past two decades, is sharply critical of the Trump administration's aggressive new turn. Mansfield isn't the only one sounding alarms. Warnings that the policy is expensive and unlikely to achieve its objectives while having serious negative consequences are coming from other academic analysts, too, and even from the watchdog agency charged with overseeing the US Afghan war.

Last month, in a Pentagon briefing, spokesmen claimed the campaign of airstrikes, which have continued after that first attack in November, was crippling the Taliban's ability to fund itself though the drug trade. Defense officials claimed the raids had destroyed $80 million worth of heroin, resulting in a $16 million loss for the Taliban, who make money taxing the trade.

But Mansfield demolishes that claim:

"At current prices for heroin, the losses USFOR-A refer to would amount to almost 73 metric tons of heroin, that's nearly 3 metric tons of heroin in each lab destroyed," he wrote.

With a conversion rate of between 9 and 13.5 kilograms of fresh opium per kilogram of heroin, this would require between 27,000 and 40,500 kilograms of fresh opium per lab. It would mean that the 25 labs destroyed were responsible for converting between 8 to 11 percent of the entire 2017 crop of 9,000 metric tons. There is little evidence from the nine buildings destroyed [in Musa Qala] to support such a claim.

Going on the tax rates levied on the [Musa Qala] labs, were the aerial campaign to have actually destroyed 73 metric tons of heroin, the loss in revenue to the Taliban would have been around $1.2 million, considerably less than the amount reported by USFOR-A.

Were the air attacks to have destroyed a series of houses rented out to cook opium in much smaller batches, as the case would appear to be in [Musa Qala], the loss in revenue to the Taliban would have been negligible. In fact, the 50 barrels of opium cooking at the time of the strike that [USFOR-A commander] General [John] Nicholson referred to as being worth 'millions of dollars' would have been worth at most $190,750 if converted to heroin and no more than $2,863 to the Taliban.

Brookings Institute senior fellow in the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert on international and internal security threats and nontraditional security threats, including insurgency, illicit economies, and organized crime who has done fieldwork and research in Afghanistan, was also skeptical.

"The Pentagon has made various claims about the size of the impact on Taliban finances, but that is all highly speculative," said Felbab-Brown. "The logic is that a certain amount of heroin is destroyed per target and that heroin is assigned that same value per unit price, but we can't assume that. It could be there was no processed heroin there at all, only opium. The only value might be that it eliminated one Taliban financier who happened to present, or maybe disrupted one link in the trade, but we can't even assume that."

"By and large, the campaign will not make a significant dent in Taliban financing," argued Felbab-Brown. "They will have to be extremely lucky to destroy large portions of opium stockpiles that have been growing for years. And the Taliban has different local arrangements -- sometimes they tax the labs, sometimes they're further downstream -- so I don't expect any significant financial losses for them."

In its latest quarterly report, issued January 31, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a government watchdog agency, also took issue with the military's claims about the damage it was inflicting on Taliban finances -- and questioned the cost-effectiveness of the campaign.

In a special section on the drug lab bombing campaign, SIGAR says that the methodology the military uses to assess the value of the labs it destroys leaves it "unclear whether the DOD figure is an accurate estimate of how much revenue is eliminated by air strikes on drug labs."

What is known, SIGAR reports, is how much it costs to fly the planes dropping the bombs:

According to the latest DOD financial management report, an F-22 costs between $35,294 and $36,799 per hour to operate; a B-52 between $32,569 and $34,341 per hour; and an F/A-18 between $9,798 and $16,173 per hour, depending on the model. By contrast, the labs being destroyed are cheap and easy to replace. Afghans told Reuters it would take three or four days to replace a lab in Afghanistan. According to UNODC, the morphine/heroin labs need only simple equipment such as a stove, iron barrel, and locally made pressing machines.

SIGAR was also cognizant of the potential political risks involved in dropping bombs in the middle of settlements: "One danger of a sustained air campaign is civilian casualties, which could erode support for the Afghan government and potentially increase support for the insurgency," the report noted.

That was the case in Musa Qala, where Mansfield noted that Helmand members of parliament had voiced objections and where a local informant angrily declared: "These are not Taliban. They killed women and children, NATO killed them."

In rural Afghanistan, where opium is the backbone of the economy, it isn't just the Taliban involved. It's peasant farmers and field-workers, traders and middlemen, local officials and warlords. And that makes using military force to attack what is essentially a criminal problem especially problematic.

"That's one of the challenges of the campaign," said Felbab-Brown. "The military can go after 'Taliban-linked' targets, but what does that mean? In some cases the lab might belong to a trader, a local criminal actor, but in other cases, it will be operated by peasants. The tendency in the drug markets is to move away from very large labs and have many dispersed labs precisely to prevent significant disruption. These are mainly small labs operated by low-level peasants who have acquired the skills to do the processing," she added.

"There is a very significant risk of hitting a lot of very low-level people, while those with political connections get away with it," the Brookings scholar pointed out. "The risk is of pushing people into the hands of the Taliban and making them more dependent on the Taliban."

The Trump White House is pressing the "Taliban heroin lab" bombing campaign because things aren't going so well in Afghanistan, in terms of either counternarcotics or counterinsurgency. Nearly 17 years after the US first invaded to drive the Taliban from power, the insurgency is stronger than ever, with the Taliban reportedly controlling more than a third of the population, rising civilian and military death tolls, and a US-backed government in Kabul seemingly incapable of either fighting or governing effectively.

"Afghan government control or influence has declined and insurgent control or influence has increased overall since SIGAR began reporting control data in January 2016," the watchdog said in its report, while also noting that for the first time, the Pentagon prohibited it from publicizing the full district and land area under the control of the government and insurgent groups or reporting on the strength and capabilities of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.

Similarly, the war on drugs in Afghanistan isn't exactly being won, either. Since 2002, SIGAR reported, the US has spent $8.7 billion on counternarcotics efforts in the country, only to see it remain responsible for the great bulk of the world's opium production throughout the period. Last fall, just before the bombs began falling on the labs, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported in its Afghanistan Opium Survey 2017 that opium planting was at an all-time high, up 63% over 2016, with strong increases reported in almost all poppy-planting provinces.

For the Trump administration, going after opium and the Taliban seems like a natural, and going aggressive fits with Trump's militaristic bent, but all the sound and fury is unlikely to accomplish much.

"There is action for the sake of action because the White House and Sessions want to see action," said Felbab-Brown. "There is this domestic image being created about opiates, and various government officials and Republicans have been obliquely linking the US opiate epidemic to global markets, but there is no evidence whatsoever that the US market is in any significant way supplied by Afghanistan. Still, the Pentagon had to demonstrate that it was doing something, and the thing it can do most easily is bomb interdiction sites, those so-called heroin labs."

Although the county accounts for around 90% of the global opium supply, very little Afghan opium ends up as heroin consumed by American drug users. According to the DEA's annual 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment, only about 1% of heroin in the US comes from Afghanistan. Instead, Mexico accounts for 80% and Colombia and Guatemala make up the remainder.

Brookings Institution counternarcotics and counterinsurgency expert Vanda Felbab-Brown (YouTube)
"There is far more pressure from Trump on actors in Afghanistan to demonstrate results and far less comprehension that demonstrating results for its own sake with significant negative side effects is counterproductive," said Felbab-Brown. "Obama had much more comprehension of the risks of things like eradication, and Trump is more far more determined to revive doctrinaire old counternarcotics approaches, many of which harken back to the drug dogma of the 1980s and 1990s."

But trying to suppress the Afghan opium economy is a loser's game for the foreseeable future, she argued.

"There are real limits on what interdiction or eradication can do. There is much greater insecurity than at any point since 2002-2003, there are fewer US troops available for ground action, and Afghans can't provide adequate security for US personnel on ground interdiction, much less an air interdiction campaign that can demonstrate some numbers," she said. "There can never be a winning situation with respect to drugs unless and until conflict has ended and the state has a presence throughout the country," said Felbab-Brown. "It's extraordinarily difficult to replace a vast illicit economy, and in Afghanistan, where the opium trade accounts for 30% of GDP, it would be an enormous undertaking."

Effectively going after the opium economy would also involve going after people other than the Taliban, she pointed out.

"We should think about interdiction in the same way we think about interdicting high value targets," she said. "Use it to target those who pose the greatest threat to the Afghan state, and that's not just Taliban actors. There are Afghan politicians clamoring to bring down the government, and they have heroin assets. Interdiction shouldn't be seen just as a tool of limiting the Taliban, but as a broader stabilization tool. But that would require far greater authorization, which the US military doesn't currently have -- it can only go after Taliban financing."

The situation is unlikely to get better in the medium term, with the Taliban and other insurgent groups seemingly striking at will, the Afghan military seemingly unable to stop them, and the Afghan government focused on hotly contested presidential elections set for next year and oft-postponed parliamentary elections set for later this year.

"Things could become much worse," said Felbab-Brown, "and with any significant instability it will become that much more difficult to conduct counter-narcotics operations."

But that's where US policy in Afghanistan appears to be heading.

"Trump and Sessions have the inclination and the desire for many of the same doctrinaire drug war policies both domestically and internationally," she said. "There is huge pressure from them on Colombia to ramp up coca eradication, and we could get in a situation where there will be huge pressure from the White House to conduct aerial spraying of opium poppies. That would be the last nail in the coffin of Afghan counterinsurgency."

Chronicle AM: San Francisco SIJs Coming Soon, House Dems Want Pot Hearing, More... (2/6/18)

Safe injection sites are coming to San Francisco, House Democrats want a hearing on Sessions' backwards-looking marijuana policies, CBD bills pass in Indiana and Virginia, and more.

Kellyanne Conway. This is who is effectively running White House opioid policy. (Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

House Judiciary Committee Democrats Demand Hearing on Sessions Marijuana Policy. In a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), eleven Democratic members of the committee called on him to hold a hearing of the full committee to discuss recent moves by Attorney General Sessions to roll back laissez-faire Obama-era policies regarding enforcement of federal drug laws in marijuana-legal states. In the letter, the Democrats said they feared new Justice Department policies "will promote an inefficient use of limited taxpayer resources and subvert the will of voters who have clearly indicated a preference for legalized marijuana in their states."

Delaware's Governor Remains Opposed to Marijuana Legalization. After months of meeting with legalization supporters, Gov. John Carney (D) has rebuffed their efforts to get him on board. "There are a lot of people who are pushing that. I don't think it's a good idea to be out ahead of that, [to be] one of the lead states there," Carney told WHYY-TV. "I've talked to my colleagues, governors from Colorado and the state of Washington, and they talk about some of the unintended negative consequences." While he did not say he would veto a legalization bill, he remains strongly opposed: "I just don't think we ought to be a leader there. Again, as we're trying to strengthen our workforce, create an environment where companies can be successful to make Delaware stronger, I don't think that will do it."

California Bill Would Allow For Consumption at Special Events. Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) has filed a bill that would allow for the sale and consumption at temporary special events. Assembly Bill 2020 would allow a state agency to issue temporary event licenses allowing sales and consumption. "These events support local economies and small businesses," Quirk said in a statement. "Despite the fiscal and communal benefits such events bring to a city or local community, current law prohibits local governments from approving applications for cannabis sales at special events if they are held anywhere but county property," he added. The measure is also sponsored by the city of Oakland.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Senate Joins House in Passing CBD Bill. The Senate voted 35-13 Monday to approve Senate Bill 294, which would allow any state resident to purchase and use CBD cannabis oil. Similar legislation passed the House last week on a unanimous vote.

Virginia Senate Passes CBD Bill. The Senate voted unanimously Monday to approve Senate Bill 726, which would allow doctors to recommend the use of CBD cannabis oil or THC-A oil. The House passed a companion bill, also unanimously, last Friday. The bill now awaits the governor's signature.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Drug Czar's Office Frozen Out of Trump Administration's War on Opioids. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has effectively taken control of the administration's opioids agenda, largely sidelining the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), according to a report in Politico. The report says Conway is "quietly freezing out drug policy professionals and relying instead on political staff to address" the opioid crisis. The main response so far has been to demand a border wall and to suggest a sort of "just say no" program. The administration is expected to propose massive cuts in the drug czar's office this month.

West Virginia Governor Sets New Plan, Names New Drug Policy Director. Gov. Jim Justice (D) said Monday the state will take a different approach to the opioid crisis by focusing a pilot program on two of the state's hardest hit counties. Justice said there wasn't enough funding to fight the crisis in all 55 counties, but that statewide efforts would continue. "We know that everything we've tried so far has failed," he said. Justice also announced the appointment of Dr. Michael Brumage as the new director of the state Office of Drug Control Policy.

Drug Testing

Vermont GOP Bill Would Require Drug Screening, Testing for Public Assistance. House Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton) has filed a bill, House Bill 866, that would require people seeking public assistance to undergo screening for substance abuse and undergo drug testing if the screening process suggests drug use. Those who failed drug tests cold still receive assistance if they agreed to and completed drug treatment, but refusing treatment or failing to complete it would result in loss of benefits.

Harm Reduction

San Francisco Should See Safe Injection Sites by July.San Francisco Department of Public Health Director Barbara Garcia said Monday the city is on track to open its first two safe injection sites around the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1. She said she is working with six to eight nonprofits that already operate needle exchanges and other drug addiction services and will choose two of them to open safe injection sites. The sites will initially be privately funded, which will help the city avoid liability, since intravenous drug use is a crime under both state and federal law. Opening the sites will not require the approval of the city's Board of Supervisors or other city officials, she said.


British Columbia Sets More Legal Pot Rules. The provincial government announced Sunday that marijuana will not be sold in the same stores as alcohol and that in urban areas, licensed retailers would only be able to sell marijuana and accessories -- not other products, such as food, gas, clothing, and lottery tickets. Rural areas will qualify for exceptions to the general rule. Also, people 19 and over will be able to possess up to 30 grams in public, and smoking will generally be allowed in public spaces where smoking is allowed. Adults will be able to grow up to four plants per household, but landlords will be able to bar tenants from growing.

Colombia Says Armed Groups Impeding Coca Crop Substitution. Colombian Post-Conflict Minister Rafael Pardo said Sunday that illegal armed groups are impeding the country's efforts to replace illicit coca crops with legal ones. The comments came after a United Nations verification team was attacked last week by dissident FARC guerrillas. Pardo also pointed a finger at Marxist ELN guerrillas. Both groups, as well as rightist paramiitaries, continue to try to benefit from the illicit coca and cocaine trade.

From Bloody Drug War to Legal Pot: Ten Global Drug Policy Highlights (and Lowlights) of 2017 [FEATURE]

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has unleashed a drug war that has killed thousands. (Wikimedia)
1. In the Philippines, Duterte's Bloody Drug War Rages On

Undeterred by international criticism, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte continued his murderous war on small-time drug users and sellers throughout 2017, with Human Rights Watch estimating that some 12,000 people -- almost all poor -- have been killed since Duterte unleashed the killers in June 2016. Poor neighborhoods have also been subjected to warrantless searches and door-to-door drug testing, and thousands more people have been imprisoned in insalubrious conditions.

2. Indonesia Starts Going Down Duterte's Path

Indonesian President Joko Widodo must have liked what he was seeing one archipelago over because in July, he started sounding like his Filipino counterpart. To fight the country's "narcotic emergency," he said, police should "gun down" foreigners suspected of drug trafficking if they "resist arrest." At year's end, the National Narcotics agency proudly reported it had killed 79 people in drug raids during 2017, and arrested more than half a million, of whom 1,523 were declared rehabilitated after drug treatment. In 2016, Widodo had ordered that a 100,000 people receive drug treatment, but there don't seem to be any resources for that.

3. Norway Moves to Decriminalize All Drug Use

In December, the Norwegian parliament sent a strong signal that it wants to decriminalize drug use and possession. It voted to pursue such a path, directing the government to begin making changes in the laws to reflect that vote. Legislation that would actually enact the changes has yet to be drafted, but Norway is on the way.

4. Uruguay Legal Marijuana Sales Begin

It took more than three years after the country legalized marijuana before it happened, but it happened this year: Pharmacies began selling marijuana direct to customers in July, making Uruguay the first country in the world to permit the legal production and sale of marijuana.

5. Nevada Becomes 5th US State to Allow Legal Marijuana Sales, More Coming Online Soon

Uruguay may be the first country to legalize marijuana, but now, eight US states and the District of Columbia have done it, and the first four -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- all allow recreational marijuana sales. Four states legalized it in November 2016, but only Nevada got legal sales up and running in 2017. But watch out -- a tidal wave is coming: Legal sales begin in California, with its population of nearly 40 million, on January 1. Oh, and Maine and Massachusetts will begin legal sales sometime in 2018, too.

6. Mexico Drug War Mayhem at Record Levels

Eleven years after then-President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels and sent in the military, things are worse than ever. According to government crime statistics, 2017 was the bloodiest year yet with more than 27,000 murders as splintering drug trafficking organizations fight a multi-sided war among themselves and against the police and military (when the police and military aren't acting on behalf of cartel factions). The year brought other grim milestones as well: More than 200,000 dead, an estimated 30,000 missing, more than 850 clandestine graves uncovered. All to keep Americans well supplied with the drugs we love to hate -- or is it hate to love?

7. Iran Moves to Drastically Reduce Drug Executions

The Islamic Republic has long been one of the world's leading executioners of drug offenders, but that could be about to change. In August, the Iranian parliament approved an amendment that significantly raises the bar for mandatory executions for certain drug offenses. The amendment dramatically increases the quantities of drugs needed to trigger a sentence of death or life in prison and should result in hundreds of people being spared execution each year. But it's not a done deal yet: It still must be approved by the Guardian Council, a body of 12 Islamic jurists, to ensure it complies with the Iranian constitution and their interpretation of sharia law.

Breaking Bad: Kim Jung Un (Flickr)
8. US Heightens Afghan Drug War, First Round of Bombing Campaign Kills Dozens

In August, President Trump authorized new rules of engagement for American forces in Afghanistan, allowing them to target the Taliban directly with air strikes. Previously, air strikes had been allowed only in support of Afghan troop operations or to protect US or NATO troops under attack. In November, US military commanders made the first use of that authority by bombing ten Taliban-controlled opium production facilities in Helmand province, leaving a toll of at least 44 dead. The aim is to disrupt Taliban funding, but it looks like there's plenty more work to do: The Pentagon says the Taliban have another 400 to 500 heroin labs. And with bumper opium crops in 2017, they have plenty of work to do, too.

9. Colombia's Bumper Coca Harvests Prompt US Pressure to Resume Aerial Eradication

Colombia just came off a bumper year for coca and cocaine production, but that's largely an artifact of the peace settlement between the FARC and the government, which offered assistance to coca growers wishing to transition to other crops, thus encouraging farmers to grow coca so they could qualify for the program. But such nuances matter little to the Trump administration, which is pressuring the Colombian government to reinstate the aerial fumigation of coca crops with potentially carcinogenic herbicides.

10. In Sanctions-Busting Move, North Korea Ups Meth Production

The regime in Pyongyang has long been accused of resorting to drug trafficking to help finance its oft-sanctioned military activities, and it looks like it's up to it again. In August came reports that state-affiliated companies and universities were "ramping up" the production of methamphetamine as a means of obtaining desperately needed foreign currency. With more sanctions, expect more North Korean meth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Afghanistan Remains the World's Opium Breadbasket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Mexico's Brutal Drug Wars

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

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

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

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

6. Latin America Breaks Away from US Drug War Hegemony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. And Heroin Maintenance, Too

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

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

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

9. New Drugs, New Markets

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

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

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

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

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

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

10.Massacring Drug Suspects in Southeast Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Foreign Policy

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


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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

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


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

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

Chronicle AM: NH Decrim Goes to Governor, VA Secretary Open to MedMJ for PTSD, More... (6/1/2017)

A decriminalization bill is heading to the New Hampshire governor's desk, Vermont's governor holds out hope for a legalization bill, Trump's opioid addiction commission will meet in a couple of weeks, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Nevada Pot Shop Rollout Could Be Delayed By Lawsuit. A state district court judge on Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the state Department of Taxation from enforcing a Wednesday deadline for license applications for the state's program to get legal marijuana sales off to an early start. The order came in response to a lawsuit from the Independent Alcohol Distributors of Nevada, who complain that the ballot measure that legalized weed in the state gave liquor wholesalers exclusive rights to distribution licenses for the first 18 months of sales. Distributors are those responsible for transporting marijuana from grows and production facilities to dispensaries.

New Hampshire Legislature Gives Final Approval to Decriminalization Bill. The House on Thursday voted to accept Senate changes to House Bill 640, which will decriminalize the possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu (R) is expected to sign the bill into law within the next couple of weeks.

North Dakota Legalization Signature Drive Will Begin in Fall. Proponents of a 2018 legalization initiative campaign say they will begin a signature gathering campaign in the fall, once students return to classes. A core group of individuals is working on a draft to be submitted to the secretary of state's office later this summer.

Vermont Governor Says Talks Continue on Marijuana Legalization Bill. Gov. Phil Scott (R) said Wednesday he thought it was still possible to pass a marijuana legalization bill during a two-day veto session set for later this month. Republican legislative leaders have said they wouldn't allow a parliamentary maneuver necessary to pass a revised legalization bill, but Scott said that if his public safety concerns are addressed, he could reach out to GOP leaders.

Medical Marijuana

VA Secretary Says He's Open to Medical Marijuana for PTSD. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on Wednesday said he is open to expanding the use of medical marijuana to treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder in states where it is legal. "There may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful and we're interested in looking at that and learning from that," Shulkin said during a press conference. "Right now, federal law does not prevent us at VA to look at that as an option for veterans... I believe that everything that could help veterans should be debated by Congress and by medical experts and we will implement that law."

Drug Policy

Trump Addiction Commission Set to Meet June 16. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) has announced that the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis will hold an inaugural meeting on June 16. The commission, which is loaded with drug policy conservatives, is charging with providing "advice and recommendations for the President regarding drug issues." The meeting will be at 12:30pm ET and will be available for public viewing via live stream.


Peru Takes First Casualties in Offensive in Key Coca Growing Region. A week after Peru announced that security forces were entering the region known as the Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM) in a bid to suppress the coca crop in the country's largest coca growing region, two policemen were killed in an ambush by presumed drug traffickers Wednesday. Police said they were killed in the Luricocha district, where traffickers have allegedly allied themselves with remnants of the Shining Path guerrillas.

Canada Tories Want to Remove Home Grow Provisions From Legalization Bill. Conservatives in parliament are criticizing a provision in the legalization bill that would allow adults to grow up to four marijuana plants per household. "Is there any easier way to get marijuana than if your parents and everybody have got plants in the kitchen?" Tory justice critic Rob Nicholson, a former attorney general, asked in a speech to the House. Another Tory MP, Marilyn Gladu, warned that children could eat the plants. "Kids eat plants all the time because their parents do not put them up in the cupboard,” she said, ignorant of the fact that THC in marijuana plants must be heated in order to convert non-psychoactive THCA to THC, the stuff that gets people high.

Chronicle AM: DEA Lied About Honduras Incident, Not Guilty Verdict in SD MJ Case, More... (5/25/17)

A joint report from the Justice and State inspector generals' finds that the DEA lied and covered up the facts in a 2012 Honduran raid that left four innocent civilians dead, Peruvian security forces prepare to enter forbidden territory in the country's coca heartland, the South Dakota attorney general's ploy to win political advantage by prosecuting a pot consultant fails, and more.

Authorities in Honduras have discovered their first domestic coca plantation. (
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legislature Passes Bill to Fund the Implementation of the Marijuana Legalization Initiative and Change the Agency That Will Regulate Marijuana for Adult Use. The Senate on Thursday passed Legislative Document 243 unanimously "under the hammer," without debate or a roll call vote, sending it to Gov. Paul LePage (R) for final approval. The House passed it "under the hammer" on Wednesday. The bill would transfer the authority to oversee adult-use marijuana from the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations within the Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS). The Bureau would be responsible for licensing adult-use marijuana businesses and creating and enforcing regulations. LD 243 also allocates $200,000 to the Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation and $1.4 million to DAFS to implement Question 1.

South Dakota Attorney General Foiled in Bid to Prosecute Pot Consultant for Personal Political Advantage. A jury in Flandreau acquitted a marijuana business consultant of conspiracy to possess and marijuana possession Wednesday. Eric Hagen, president of Colorado-based Monarch America, had contracted with the Flandreau Sioux tribe to assist it in developing a marijuana grow operation and resort, a plan that was abandoned by the tribe in the face of mixed signals from the federal government and staunch opposition from state officials. Led by Attorney General Marty Jackley (R), who is eying the state's governor's office, the state nine-months later charged Hagen and a business partner, even though they never possessed or controlled any marijuana. It took a juror just two hours to find Hagen not guilty. Hagen immediately accused Jackley of ruining his company through a politically motivated prosecution. "He tanked our company by spreading lies and rumors," Hagen said. "It was 100 percent politically motivated. This was simply a media ploy for Jackley because he's running for governor in 2018."


Peruvian Forces Set to Enter Key Coca Cultivation Area. Security forces are preparing to enter the lawless Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro River valleys (VRAEM) coca growing areas for the first time as part of a plan to eradicate half the country's coca supply by 20121. The area, where an estimated 125,000-150,000 acres of coca is grown is remote, on the far side of the Andes, and the trade there is protected by armed rebel groups and drug trafficking organization. "It has to be done slowly, but it has to be done," Peru's drug czar Carmen Masias told a news conference.

Hondurans Bust First Coca Plantation. For years, Honduras has been a key transshipment point for cocaine headed from South America toward North American markets, but now Honduran authorities report finding their first domestic coca growing operation. They busted the field containing an estimated 7,000 plants last month in the mountainous region of Esquipulas del Norte. "We have confirmed through toxicological exams that we're dealing with coca plants. This is the first time we've confiscated a coca plantation in Honduras," prosecutor Carlos Morazan said. "At the site, we found a laboratory with tools and precursor chemicals for making coca paste and for processing the drug up to its final power form," Morazan added.

DOJ Report Says DEA Lied About Fatal Honduran Drug Raid. In 2012, a botched drug raid in Honduras led to the shooting deaths of four civilians, including a teenage boy, as they floated along a river. Now, a report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General finds that the DEA lied when it claimed the victims were cocaine traffickers who had shot first and that DEA agents were only present as advisors. The report says the DEA failed to properly investigate, blocked attempts to find the truth, and stuck with an inaccurate version of events despite the efforts of Congress and the Justice Department to get to the bottom of it.

Chronicle AM: Afghan Opium is Booming, American Legion Wants MedMJ Research, More... (5/22/17)

We're starting to see 2018 marijuana legalization initiative action getting underway, an Ohio Supreme Court justice calls for freeing the weed, the American Legion wants the feds to get out of the way of medical marijuana research, Afghanistan has a bumper opium crop, and more.

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Sends Marijuana Legalization Initiaitve Back to Be Reworked. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) has rejected a proposed marijuana legalization initiative from Larry Morris of West Fork, saying that it is "ambiguous" and nearly identical to a later proposal from Mary Berry of Summit. Rutledge suggested that Morris and Berry work together.

Minnesota Lawmaker Files Bill for Legalization Constitutional Amendment. State Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) introduced House File 2714 on Saturday. The bill proposes a constitutional amendment to allow people 21 and over to buy and grow marijuana for personal use. The bill was filed with just a couple of days left in the session, and Liebling doesn't expect it to pass this year, but "it's time to get the conversation going," she said. Liebling is also seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination next year, and marijuana legalization is one of her campaign planks.

Nevada Marijuana Edibles Regulation Bill Advances. The Assembly Judiciary Committee approved Senate Bill 344 last Friday. The bill has already passed the Senate. It would require edibles to be sold in single servings in nondescript packaging and be child-proofed. The legislature is rushing to get the bill passed before retail marijuana sales are set to begin on July 1.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Justice William O'Neill, the only Democrat to hold statewide office in the state, says it is time for the Ohio to legalize marijuana. The potential gubernatorial contender said in a speech that he not only wants to free the weed, but also to free nonviolent marijuana offenders from prison. "The time has come for new thinking," O'Neill said in his prepared remarks. "We regulate and tax alcohol and tobacco and imprison people for smoking grass."

South Dakota Legalization Initiative Signature Gathering Gets Underway. Supporters of a marijuana legalization initiative began signature gathering over the weekend after the attorney general's office okayed petitions for circulation. This initiative would legalize the possession of any quantity of marijuana by adults. Organizers have until November 6 to come up with approximately 14,000 valid voter signatures.

Medical Marijuana

American Legion Asks Trump to Allow Research for Vets. In a recent letter to the White House, the conservative veterans' group asked for a meeting with Trump son-in-law and key advisor Jared Kushner, "as we seek support from the president to clear the way for clinical research in the cutting edge areas of cannabinoid receptor research," the letter said. "We are not asking for it to be legalized," said Louis Celli, the national director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation for the American Legion. "There is overwhelming evidence that it has been beneficial for some vets. The difference is that it is not founded in federal research because it has been illegal."

Utah Republicans Reject Resolution Supporting Medical Marijuana. At its annual convention over the weekend, the Utah Republican Party overwhelmingly rejected a resolution in support of medical marijuana, defeating it by a margin of 70% to 29%. The Republican-controlled legislature has refused to enact a full-fledged medical marijuana law, and now the state GOP has made it clear it intends to stick to its guns. Advocates could undertake an initiative campaign next year in the face of legislative indifference or hostility.


Bermuda House Passes Marijuana Decriminalization Bill. The House of Assembly has approved an opposition bill that would decriminalize up to a quarter-ounce (7 grams) of marijuana. The bill still needs approval by the Senate and the governor's signature. If that happens, it will go into effect on June 30.

UN Says Afghanistan Opium Cultivation Up 10%. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that illicit opium poppy plantings had increased by 10% last year, with potential opium production up 43%, to 4,800 metric tons. UNODC estimated that opiates accounted for 16% of the country's GDP and more than two-thirds of the agricultural sector. Opium production also provided labor for 235,100 full-time workers and accounted for more than half of the family income of poppy growers. The illicit economy is fueling insecurity, violence and insurgency among other problems to discourage private and public investment in Afghanistan, UNODC said.

Chronicle AM: DEA Kratom Ban Retreat, France's First Supervised Injection Site, More... (10/12/16)

A new Pew poll has support for marijuana legalization at 57% nationwide, the DEA is forced to back away from its kratom ban, France opens its first supervised injection site, and more.

In a historic move, the DEA was forced to back away from enacting an emergency ban on kratom. (Project CBD)
Marijuana Policy

New National Poll Has Solid Majority Support for Legalization. A new Pew Research Center poll released today has support for marijuana legalization nationwide at 57%, with 37% opposed. A recent Gallup poll had it at 58%. Pew says the numbers show that public opinion on the issue has flipped in the past decade. In 2006, only 32% supported legalization, with 60% opposed.

Delaware Legislator Vows to File Legalization Bill Next Year. State Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D), the Senate majority whip, said she will introduce a pot legalization bill in January. "It's certainly being considered. It's going to be an uphill battle," Henry said Tuesday during a meeting of the state Medical Marijuana Act Oversight Committee. "But it's time, quite frankly. It's time to certainly look at it."

Nevada's Largest Labor Union Endorses Legalization Initiative. Culinary Union Local 226, the largest labor union in the state, is getting behind the Question 2 legalization initiative. The union represents some 60,000 workers in the Silver State.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Poll Has Initiative With Strong Lead. A new poll from the Public Opinion Research Laboratory at the University of North Florida has more than three-out-four likely voters supporting the Question 2 medical marijuana initiative. The poll had support at 77%. The initiative needs 60% to win because it is a constitutional amendment.


In Unprecedented Move, DEA Backs Away from Kratom Ban -- At Least for Now. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has posted a notice in the Federal Register stating that it is withdrawing its plans to ban kratom using emergency scheduling powers. The DEA instead is opening a public comment period ending December 1st. The official notice indicates that comments received by the DEA will be considered -- along with formal input from the Food and Drug Administration -- before a determination is made about scheduling kratom. The DEA's proposed ban on kratom, a medicinal plant used for millennia in Southeast Asia and currently by millions in the US, was anticipated to go in effect as early as September 30. The DEA retreat came amidst enormous pressure on the agency from the public and lawmakers to halt the ban.


France's First Supervised Injection Site is Open for Business. France has now joined a growing list of European countries that operate supervised injection facilities for drug users. After the Socialist government pushed through legislation allowing them last year, the first one in France opened Tuesday near Paris's Gare du Nord train station.

Peru Renews Military Operations in Key Coca Growing Area. The Peruvian government announced last week that it is declaring a 60-day state of emergency in parts of the Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM), a key coca producing region. The area had been under a state of emergency for 30 years until last year, when the government ended it after capturing several Shining Path operatives. But now, the military is back with twin briefs to fight drug trafficking and "narcoterrorism."

Cayman Island Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Bill.Lawmakers in the Caribbean island nation voted Monday to legalize the use of CBD cannabis oil for medicinal purposes. The measure still faces one final vote, and could require some tweaking before such medicines become available. No one in the Cayman Islands produces CBD cannabis oil, and it could be problematic to try to import it from the US because of federal marijuana prohibition.

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