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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Afghanistan Remains the World's Opium Breadbasket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Mexico's Brutal Drug Wars

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

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

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

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

6. Latin America Breaks Away from US Drug War Hegemony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. And Heroin Maintenance, Too

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

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

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

9. New Drugs, New Markets

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

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

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

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

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

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

10.Massacring Drug Suspects in Southeast Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

Law Enforcement

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

Sentencing

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

International

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

Chronicle AM: NJ Legalization Bill Filed, Seattle Safe Injection Sites Face NIMBY, More... (5/15/17)

A new Jersey state senator wants to legalize marijuana, and so do Britain's Liberal Democrats; Seattle's proposed safe injection sites face NIMBY opposition, violence flares in Mexico and threatens to erupt in Colombia, and more.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos helps eradicating the first of many coca plants. (President’s Office)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada Legislature Approves Bill Outlawing Urine Testing of Suspected Pot-Impaired Drivers. Lawmakers last Thursday gave final approval to Assembly Bill 135, which would bar the use of urine tests for driving under the influence of marijuana because the science shows that urinalysis does not actually measure impairment -- merely the presence of marijuana metabolites. Under the bill, drivers suspected of being under the influence of pot would be subjected to a blood test, which actually measures THC levels (although not impairment). The bill does not change the state's per se DUID level of two nanogram of THC per milliliter, which presumes drivers are impaired at that level.

New Jersey Legalization Bill Rolled Out Today. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) on Monday introduced a legalization bill, even though he conceded it was unlikely to become law while Gov. Chris Christie (R) is still around. Christie's term ends in January. The bill would allow the possession of up to an ounce, 16 ounces of edibles, and 72 ounces of marijuana-infused beverages, but would not allow personal cultivation. The bill would also create a Division of Marijuana Enforcement to regulate marijuana commerce, with a sales tax of 7%, rising to 25% over five years. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Expansion Bill. Gov. Terry Branstad (R) last Friday signed into law House File 524, which expands an existing law that allows people with certain conditions to use CBD cannabis oil, but did not allow for production or sale of the oil. The new law lets the state authorize up to two facilities to grow marijuana and produce cannabis oil to be sold in five state-approved dispensaries. It also expands the list of qualifying illnesses to include 15 chronic conditions.

Harm Reduction

Seattle Supervised Injection Sites Face NIMBY Opposition. Opponents of proposed supervised injection sites -- one in Seattle and one possibly in suburban King County -- have organized a local initiative campaign to put the proposal to a county-wide vote. Initiative 27 needs some 47,000 valid voter signatures by July 31 to put the proposal to an up or down vote on the November 2017 ballot.

International

Colombian Government Begins Coca Eradication, Narcos Begin Fight-Back. President Juan Manuel Santos took part last Thursday in the kickoff of a campaign to eradicate coca crops and provide substitutes. The government wants to eradicate some 125,000 acres of coca -- more than three times the amount eradicated last year -- but with the FARC now demobilized, drug traffickers and militias are now waging a campaign of threats, intimidation, and violent attacks to protect their business, leaving coca growers caught between the government and the narcos. Nearly three dozen rural community leaders have been assassinated since the November peace deal, and the traffickers seems to be tailing government officials trying to sell the program. In one Putomayo town last week, anonymous pamphlets threatening cooperative leaders appeared the next day.

Mexican Cartel Fight Over Reynosa "Plaza" Leaves More Than Two Dozen Dead. As of late last week, at least 28 people had been killed in fighting among drug traffickers over who would control "la plaza" (the franchise) in the Mexican border town of Reynosa. The dead include cartel members, civilians, and members of the military. The combatants are variously described as either members of the Zetas and Gulf cartels or factions of the Zetas.

British Lib Dems Embrace Marijuana Legalization. The Liberal Democrats have adopted a platform that includes legalizing marijuana and marijuana commerce. The Lib Dems were the third force in British politics behind Labor and the Conservatives, but saw their number of MPs drop dramatically in the most recent elections after joining the Tories as a junior partner in a coalition government. The Lib Dems are now the fourth force in British politics, having been surpassed by the Scottish Nationalists in the last election.

Chronicle AM: OR Bill to Bar MJ Drug Tests Before Hiring Gets Rough Reception, More... (2/22/17)

An Oregon effort to protect marijuana using job seekers gets hammered by employers, the Arkansas commission charged with crafting rules and regs for medical marijuana has approved final rules, asset forfeiture reform has passed the North Dakota House, Bolivian coca farmers are unhappy, and more.

Drug testing that discriminates against marijuana users is an issue in pot-legal states. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Bill to Block Employers From Firing Workers for Marijuana Use Gets Rough Reception. A bill that would protect workers from using state-legal marijuana during their off hours ran into a storm of opposition at a hearing Tuesday. Senate Bill 301 would bar employers from refusing to hire workers merely because of a positive test result for pot, but employers complained that the bill would violate federal law and that there is no scientific means of determining whether someone who tests positive is still under the influence. The hearing was before the Senate Judiciary Committee. No vote was taken.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Commission Approves Medical Marijuana Rules. The state Medical Marijuana Commission Tuesday approved final rules governing how the state's medical marijuana system will be regulated. Next comes a public hearing set for March 31, and then the rules must be approved by the state legislature, which must happen before May 8. After that, the commission will use the rules to determine who gets licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana.

Indiana CBD Bill Heads for Governor's Desk. The House passed Senate Bill 15 on a 98-0 vote Tuesday. The Senate had approved the bill last week, so it now goes to the desk of Gov. Eric Holcomb (R). The bill would allow people with epilepsy to use CBD cannabis oil.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. A House panel voted 3-0 Tuesday to advance House Bill 3128, a full-fledged medical marijuana bill that includes provisions for dispensaries. The bill now goes to the full Medical Military and Municipal Affairs Committee.

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota House Passes Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The House voted 50-42 Wednesday to approve House Bill 1170, which would end civil asset forfeiture by requiring a prior criminal conviction before property could be seized, and which would require that any revenues from seizures go to the state's general fund instead of to law enforcement. The measure now heads to the Senate.

International

Bolivian Coca Farmers Clash With Police Over Cultivation Limits. Angry coca farmers threw rocks, fireworks, and sticks of dynamite as they clashed with police outside the Palacio Quemado, the seat of government and official residence of President Evo Morales in La Paz. That was the second day of clashes sparked by the government's move to limit coca cultivation to 50,000 acres. The government says local demand only requires about 40,000 acres, but the farmers say that figure is too low.

Chronicle AM: AZ & CA MJ Polls, AR & OK MedMJ Lawsuits; Filipino Massacre Continues; More... (9/7/16)

New polls have good news for Arizona pot legalizers and better news for California ones, more lawsuits get filed over Arkansas and Oklahoma medical marijuana initiatives, the Philippines' murderous drug war continues apace, the Indonesian drug fighters want to imitate it, and more.

Filipino President Rodrigo "The Punisher" Duterte (theinfluence.org)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Has Legalization Initiative Leading. An Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite poll has the Prop 205 legalization initiative favored by 50% of registered voters, with 40% opposed and 10% undecided. A 10-point lead is good, but getting over 50% would be better. "The proposal starts out ahead... but that doesn't mean it ends up that way after a campaign," said public-opinion pollster Mike O'Neil, who was not involved in the survey. "It reflects an evolving attitude on marijuana throughout the entire country, and we're part of that. People are no longer buying that this is just a horrible thing."

California Poll Finds Strong Majority for Legalization Initiative. A new poll from the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley has support for the Prop 64 legalization initiative at 63.8%. That's in line with other recent polls that have shown the initiative apparently cruising toward victory. The strongest support came from Democrats (73.8%), African Americans (71.9%), Latinos (69.3%), and independents (62.2%).

Vermont Legislative Committee Will Examine Marijuana Policy Ahead of Next Year's Session. State Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) said Tuesday the Joint Legislative Justice Oversight Committee will hold extra meetings this year to examine various issues around marijuana policy, including medical marijuana. Vermont was touted as likely to be the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislative process, but a bill this year passed the Senate, only to see it killed in the House. "My hope is that the House will take a look at it this time and work on a bill," he said.

Nashville Takes Another Step Toward Decriminalization. The Nashville city council has approved a marijuana decriminalization ordinance for a second time. It still has one more reading before it passes the council. The measure would give police the option of charging people caught with a half-ounce or less with a civil penalty instead of a misdemeanor.

Medical Marijuana

American Legion Calls for Marijuana to Be Rescheduled. The nation's largest veterans' organization has passed a resolution calling on the federal government to move marijuana off of Schedule I. The resolutions calls on the government "amend legislation to remove marijuana from schedule I and reclassify it in a category that, at a minimum will recognize cannabis as a drug with potential medical value." The resolution, which also calls on the DEA to "license privately-funded medical marijuana production operations in the United States to enable safe and efficient cannabis drug development research," was approved at the America Legion annual meeting in Cincinnati at the end of August.

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Foes File Lawsuit to Block Second Initiative. Arkansans Against Legalized Marijuana has filed a lawsuit seeking to disqualify the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment from the November ballot. The same group, which includes the state Chamber of Commerce and Farm Bureau, earlier filed a similar suit against a competing initiative, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act. The lawsuits claim ballot titles and descriptions are deceptive. The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act is also the target of another lawsuit challenging its handling of reporting by canvassers.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaigns Files Lawsuit Over Rewrite of Ballot Language. Oklahomans for Health, the group behind the medical marijuana initiative filed suit Tuesday to challenge Attorney General Scott Pruitt's (R) rewrite of its ballot description. The original wording of the ballot title made it clear that a yes vote would okay only medical use approved by a physician, but Pruitt's version starts out like this: "This measure legalizes the licensed use, sale and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma. There are no qualifying medical conditions identified." And Oklahomans for Health is crying foul: "Thousands and thousands of signatures were collected from voters of Oklahoma," attorney David Slane said after he filed the lawsuit. "No elected official has the right to rewrite these ballots in such a way that he would try to unfairly influence voters. Scott Pruitt has a habit, a pattern of doing this." Because the campaign was late handing in signatures, the issue is unlikely to appear on the ballot this year. Look for 2018.

Hemp

Colorado Certifies Country's First Domestic Hemp Seeds. The state Department of Agriculture has certified domestic hemp seeds for the first time in this country. State officials showed them off Wednesday. The certification is the endpoint of a years-long collaboration between the department and Colorado hemp growers and "is vital to the long-term growth of the industry," said the department's Duane Sinning. The state has some 400 hemp farmers.

Law Enforcement

Unrest Continues Over Killing of Unarmed Black Florida Man in SWAT Raid That Netted Two Grams of Weed. Protests have been ongoing in the Clairmel area of Hillsborough County ever since a SWAT team member shot and killed Levonia Riggins in his own bedroom last Thursday during a raid in which authorities turned up only two grams of marijuana. Traffic intersections have been blocked periodically as protestors call for the officer who killed Riggins to be fired.

International

Colombian President Just Says No to Resuming Aerial Fumigation of Coca Crops. President Juan Manuel Santos has shot down a trial balloon floated earlier this week by Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martinez, who suggested that the country was about to restart aerial eradication of coca crops by spraying herbicides on the fields. Spraying doesn't solve the problem, Santos said: "We arrive, fumigate or eradicate it with soldiers and police, only for farmers to plant even more productive varieties as we leave," the president said.

Indonesia Anti-Drug Head Calls for Philippines-Style War on Drugs. Budi Waseso, head of the Indonesian anti-drugs agency, said Tuesday his country was ramping up its drug war and said Indonesia could be as aggressive as the Philippines, where alleged drug users and dealers are being murdered in the streets by police and vigilantes. "Yes I believe so. It can happen because (the drugs problem) in Indonesia is as bad as in the Philippines. The life of a dealer is meaningless because (he) carries out mass murder. How can we respect that?," he added.

Philippines Drug War Death Toll Now Surging Toward 3,000 in Only Two Months. People are being killed at the rate of 44 a day in President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drug users, drug sellers, and the rule of law, and the death toll after only two months in office is now nearing 3,000. Duterte is happy and wants more: "More people will be killed, plenty will be killed until the last pusher is out of the streets," he said "Until the (last) drug manufacturer is killed, we will continue and I will continue." Of the nearly 3,000 killed, about one-third are claimed by police and two-thirds are blamed on death squads, vigilantes, and hired assassins.

Chronicle AM: Denver Pot Social Use Init Makes Ballot, Kratom Fight Gathers Steam, More... (9/6/16)

Big city Texas prosecutors are increasingly dropping small-time pot cases, a Denver social use marijuana initiative qualifies for the ballot, kratom proponents move to block the DEA effort to place it on Schedule I, and more, including lots of international items.

Denver skyline (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Texas Big City Prosecutors Are Dismissing Small-Time Marijuana Cases. Prosecutors in the state's five most populous counties -- Bexar (San Antonio), Dallas, Harris (Houston), Tarrant (Ft. Worth), and Travis (Austin) -- are increasingly dismissing small-time pot possession charges. In Ft. Worth, the number of cases dropped rose from 9% in 2011 to 25% last year. In Dallas, the number dropped rose from 18% to 41% in the same period. Travis County prosecutors Dan Hamre explained. "Jurors would look at us like we are crazy," he said. "'You are spending your time, our time and the court's time on a small amount of personal marijuana?'"

Washington State Campaign to End Marijuana Possession Felonies Underway. Under marijuana legalization via I-502, the stat legalized the possession of up to 28 grams of pot, but possession of 40 grams or more remains a felony. A Change.org petition calling on state lawmakers to fix the law is now underway. It has more than a thousand signatures in ten days, but could always use more.

Denver Marijuana Social Club Initiative Qualifies for Ballot. An initiative from the Denver Social Use Campaign has qualified for the November ballot. It would allow for the creation of "designated consumption areas" for marijuana use. Permits would be open to a broad range of businesses, and could cover a single event or be good for up to a year. Patrons would have to bring their own buds, though, since sales would not be allowed.

Medical Marijuana

Second Arkansas Lawsuit Challenges Medical Marijuana Initiative. A Little Rock attorney who is a member of NORML's National Legal Committee has filed a lawsuit seeking to knock the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act off the November ballot. In the lawsuit, attorney Kara Benca asked the court to invalidate some 15,000 voter signatures, which would disqualify the initiative. A second initiative, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, has also qualified for the ballot. If both pass, the won with the most votes wins.

Drug Policy

Petition Drive to Undo Making Kratom Schedule I is Underway. In response to the DEA's announcement it was moving to make kratom's active ingredients Schedule I, fans of the opioid substitute have begun a Change.org petition asking the White House to intervene. The White House must respond if the petition hits 100,000 signatures by month's end. So far, it has nearly 70,000. The American Kratom Association also says it is pondering a lawsuit to block the move.

International

Australia Will Legalize Medical Marijuana in November. The Therapeutic Goods Administration has made it official. The agency has now formally announced it will move medical marijuana from Schedule 9 (prohibited substances) to Schedule 8 (controlled drugs). The change will go into effect in November.

Bolivian Government Proposes Prison Time for Illegal Coca Cultivation. Vice Minister for Social Defense Felipe Caceres announced Friday that the government is proposing a bill that would make illegal coca production a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. Under current law, illegal cultivators face no prison time, only the destruction of their crops.

Colombia Attorney General Calls for Renewed Aerial Eradication of Coca Crops. Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martinez has released a report calling for a resumption of aerial spraying of coca groups with herbicides. The government ended that policy las year, citing health risks, as well as a desire to emphasize public health and human rights in its drug policies. But an expansion of coca production has the government signaling it may change its tune.

Denmark's Christiania Residents Tear Down Hash Stalls After Police Shot and Wounded. Christiania has long been the go-to place to score hash in Copenhagen, but after a known drug seller opened fire on police last week, wounding two, residents of the hippie enclave began tearing down dealers' stalls, saying they feared organized crime was moving in. "If they start building up the booths again tonight, then well, we're here tonight as well. The plan is to continue tearing them down until it works," Christiania resident Helene Schou said. "I'm not saying hash should disappear completely from Christiania, but we needed a kiosk and what we had was a supermarket."

Philippines Will Make Drug Tests Mandatory for College Students. In the latest move in President Rodrigo Duterte's murderous war on drugs, his administration has announced it will seek to make students entering college undergo drug tests beginning next year. More than 2,400 people accused of being drug users or sellers have been killed in Duterte's two months in office, and his administration has instituted broad drug testing of police and politicians, among others.

Chronicle AM: Seattle Safe Injection Site Progress, Philippines Drug Killings Inquiry, More... (8/23/16)

A Seattle heroin task force has endorsed safe injection sites, the Philippine Senate is holding hearings on the ongoing massacre of alleged drug users and sellers, Colombia coca growers are protesting over unfulfilled crop substitution promises, and more.

Vancouver's InSite drug consumption room. Something similar could be coming to Seattle. (vcha.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects 2018 Legalization Initiative Wording, Again. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has again rejected the wording of a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. The proposal is from Mary Berry of Summit. Rutledge wrote Monday that the proposal has ambiguities around licensing and the role of various state agencies in overseeing legal marijuana commerce. Berry successfully submitted a similar proposal for this year, the Arkansas Cannabis Amendment, but it failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Northern Marianas Senator Reintroduces Marijuana Legalization Referendum Bill. Sen. Sixto Igisomar has redrafted what was formerly a medical marijuana bill and turned it into a full-on legalization bill. The new version, Senate Bill 19-106, is now before the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare. If approved by the legislature, the measure would then go before the voters.

Harm Reduction

Seattle Heroin Task Force Endorses Safe Injection Sites. The Heroin Task Force empanelled by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine has endorsed open safe injection sites for drug users. The task force is now working on formal recommendations on how it might work and the legal challenges it could face. Those recommendations are expected next month.

International

Philippine Senators Open Hearing on Drug War Killings. The Senate Justice Committee opened an inquiry Monday into the killings of more than 1,800 alleged drug users and sellers during an ongoing crackdown spurred by President Rodrigo Duterte. Committee chair Sen. Leila de Lima said she was worried by the killings and that police and vigilantes could be using the crackdown "to commit murder with impunity." National Police Chief Ronald de la Rosa, who said he did not condone extrajudicial killings, took heat for failing to stop vigilante killings. "This is like anarchy," said Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV. "It's continuing under your watch."

Colombia Coca Growers Say Government Not Living Up to Crop Substitution Promises. Coca growers in Putumayo province have been protesting for the past month, saying the government is eradicating coca crops without providing substitute crops as promised. Clashes between riot police and protestors have left at least one farmer dead, with dozens others injured.

Chronicle AM: Senate "Sham" Legalization Hearing, Legalizers Rally in Ann Arbor & DC, More... (4/4/16)

Marijuana legalization activists rallied in Ann Arbor and DC over the weekend, pot-related hearings take place in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and the US Senate tomorrow, the California Assembly will take up supervised injection sites tomorrow, British pot arrests are down dramatically, and more.

Could supervised injection sites be coming to California? Stay tuned. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Legalization Foes to Hold Hearing Tomorrow. US Sens. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will hold a hearing in the Caucus on International Narcotics Control titled "Is the Justice Department Adequately Protecting the Public from the Impact of State Recreational Marijuana Legalization." The only witnesses are foes of marijuana legalization, making it a "sham hearing" in the eyes of the Drug Policy Alliance. "These hearings are a one-sided sham with the deck stacked with witnesses who have a track record of vehemently opposing marijuana legalization," said DPA deputy director of national affairs,Michael Collins. "An honest evaluation of marijuana legalization would include the undeniable benefits of legalization like the massive drop in marijuana arrests, the billions in taxes, and the transition from an underground market to a regulated one. A more even-handed hearing would also address the destructive harms of marijuana prohibition."

On Eve of Hearing, Connecticut Governor Reiterates Opposition to Legalization. With a legislative informational hearing on legalizing marijuana set for Tuesday, Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) made clear Monday that he remains opposed to the move. "I'm not a believer in it," he said. "I've done all the things I thought were necessary," referring to supporting the state's medical marijuana program and signing a decriminalization bill. "I think when you legalize marijuana, you're encouraging marijuana, and that's not the place I want to go."

DC Pot Activists Fire Up in Front of White House. Led by the DC Cannabis Campaign, hundreds of legalization supporters gathered in front of the White House Saturday afternoon to urge President Obama to reschedule marijuana. The event was held on 4/2 instead of 4/20 because "Obama has been a big zero" when it comes to leading the country out of pot prohibition, the activists said. At 4:20pm, people lit up in a civil disobedience action, but no arrests were forthcoming, although some citations were issued.

Thousands Attend Annual Hash Bash in Ann Arbor. Pot lovers and legalizers gathered by the thousands on the University of Michigan's central campus Diag in the Midwest's largest annual celebration of cannabis culture. This was the 45th annual Hash Bash, and stoner icon Tommy Chong addressed the crowd, along with lesser luminaries. Activists were also out collecting signatures for a proposed statewide marijuana legalization initiative. Three people were arrested for marijuana possession.

Rhode Island Hearing on Marijuana Regulation and Policy Tuesday. State Attorney General Peter Kilmartin will host a forum on marijuana policy Tuesday at Brown University. Speakers include representatives from the city of Denver, the Washington state attorney general's office, and the Washington Institute on Public Policy, as well as Massachusetts state Sen. Jason Lewis (D), who chairs that state's Special Senate Committee on Marijuana.

Harm Reduction

California Assembly Hearing on Supervised Injection Sites Set for Tomorrow. The Assembly Public Safety Committee will hold a hearing on Assembly Bill 2495, which would allow localities to establish supervised drug consumption services and let drug users consume controlled substances there under public health supervision. The bill is sponsored by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton).

International

British Marijuana Arrests Down By Nearly Half Since 2010. Arrests are down 46%, warnings fell by 48%, and charges filed declined by 33% between 2010 and 2015, according to official data from police forces. Some forces admitted no longer targeting pot smokers, saying their officers had been "freed up" for "more important work."

Indian Opium Addicts Block Highway to Protest New Ban on Poppy Husk. Hundreds of people addicted to "doda post," as dried opium husk is known in the area, blocked a highway in Rajasthan to protest a ban on the trade that went into effect April 1. Police managed to clear the road, but demonstrations against the ban continued. One local doda user attempted to commit suicide, and his father, Himatram, said he and his son had been using doda for years. "This government banned doda while supplying liquor publicly," he said. "It is not justified." Doda users said authorities had begun "de-addiction" drives, but were supplying them with medications that were useless.

Chronicle AM: PR Governor Says Legalize It, WY Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Signed, More... (3/1/16)

Puerto Rico's governor says legalize it, Wyoming's effort to felonize marijuana edibles dies, MPP rolls out its Ohio medical marijuana initiative, and more. 

Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Puerto Rico Governor Calls for Pot Legalization. Outgoing Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla called for marijuana legalization as he gave his last public address as governor Monday. He said doing so would lower both crime and hypocrisy. He said that at the least, legislators should approve a 2013 bill to decriminalize pot possession.

Wyoming Edibles Bill Dies as Lawmakers Tussle Over Making Possession a Felony. A Senate-passed bill, Senate File 96, that made it a felony to possess more than three ounces of marijuana edibles died Monday after failing to advance before a legislative deadline. The House Judiciary Committee last week stripped out the felony provision, but legislative squabbling left the bill dead. The bill was deemed necessary after a pair of state judges ruled that the state's marijuana laws did not apply to edibles. "There really is concern that if you overreach, you can turn activity that was lawful in one state into a felony on this side of the border, and while you may feel that’s the right way, you want to be careful before you undertake to put people in prison for that type of activity, explained Senate Majority Leader Phil Nicholas (R-Laramie). 

Medical Marijuana

MPP Rolls Out Ohio Medical Marijuana Initiative. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Ohioans for Medical Marijuana has rolled out its proposed constitutional amendment to allow for medical marijuana. The proposal calls for 15 large-scale grow operations and an unlimited number of smaller grows, with five types of business licenses for growers, manufacturers, and retailers. Personal medical marijuana grows would not need to be licensed.

Texas Poll Shows Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Texas Tegna poll suggests Texans are ready to move beyond the limited legalization of CBD cannabis oil and go for full-blown medical marijuana. The poll found that 71% supported expanding the program, with only 19% opposed.

Asset Forfeiture

Indiana Sued Over Asset Forfeiture Fund Disbursements. The Institute for Justice has sued the state to try to force it to enforce its own asset forfeiture laws. They require that proceeds from seizures go to a schools fund, but that hasn't been happening. Instead, police and prosecutors have been keeping the proceeds for themselves.

Wyoming Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Last year, Gov. Matt Mead (R) vetoed a bill that would have ended civil asset forfeiture reform, but on Monday he found an asset forfeiture bill he could get behind. Mead signed into law Senate File 46, which does not end civil asset forfeiture, but imposes tighter rules on it. Now, people whose property is seized will get a probable cause hearing within 30 days, with a judge deciding whether to proceed with forfeiture. If property owners can prove they are innocent, the state will have to reimburse their legal costs.

Harm Reduction

Oregon Legislature Unanimously Approves Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug Bill. Following in the footsteps of the House, the Senate Monday unanimously approved House Bill 4124, which allows pharmacists to dispense naloxone (Narcan®) without a prescription. The bill also expands the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program so that emergency room physicians will be able to access the database.

Law Enforcement

Judge Denies Federal Government's Motion to Unlock iPhone in Drug Case. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein in Brooklyn, New York, has denied a government motion to compel Apple to help it unlock an iPhone in a drug case. "Ultimately, the question to be answered in this matter, and in others like it across the country, is not whether the government should be able to force Apple to help it unlock a specific device; it is instead whether the All Writs Act resolves that issue and many others like it yet to come," the ruling says. "For the reasons set forth above, I conclude that it does not. The government's motion is denied." The Justice Department said it would ask Orenstein to review his decision in coming days.

International

Myanmar Christian Anti-Drug Vigilantes Retreat. The Pat Jasan movement, which had attempted to destroy opium crops in Kachin state, has abandoned its efforts after dozens of its members were attacked last week. Some 30 vigilantes were injured in grenade and gunfire attacks by unidentified assailants as they tried to clear poppy fields. 

Drug War Issues

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