Interdiction

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The War on Cocaine Only Strengthens Drug Cartels, Study Finds [FEATURE]

If you've spent nearly a half-century and $250 billion trying to stop the flow of cocaine into the US and the white powder is now cheaper and more plentiful than ever, maybe it's time to rethink. That's the implicit lesson lurking behind a new study on the impact of drug interdiction efforts on drug trafficking organizations.

cocaine interdicted by US Customs (dhs.gov)
Interdiction is the supply side approach to reducing drug use. Rather than reducing demand through education, prevention, and treatment, interdiction seeks to reduce the supply of drugs available domestically by blocking them en route to the US or at the border.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and conducted by scientists from a half-dozen American universities, the study relied on a computer model called NarcoLogic that shows how drug traffickers respond to interdiction strategies and tactics. More sophisticated than previous attempts to simulate the drug trade, NarcoLogic models local- and network-level trafficking dynamics at the same time.

"Our team consists of researchers who worked in different parts of Central America during the 2000s and witnessed a massive surge of drugs into the region that coincided with a reinvigoration of the war on drugs," David Wrathall of Oregon State University's College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences said in a press release announcing the research results. "We asked ourselves: did drug interdiction push drug traffickers into these places?"

The short answer is yes, and that has implications that go far beyond drug policy. The Central American migrants who are at the center of the current "border crisis" are fleeing not only poverty but also high levels of violence generated by the movement of Mexican drug trafficking groups into the region a decade ago as they faced increasing interdiction efforts at home and from US authorities.

In fact, although it is not addressed in this new research, it was earlier interdiction efforts aimed at Colombian cocaine trafficking groups in the 1980s that led directly to the transformation of formerly small-scale Mexican cross-border smuggling organizations into the Frankenstein's monster of drug prohibition that the cartels are today. With the Colombians under intense pressure, Mexican traffickers rose to the occasion and have been making billions of dollars a year ever since.

This despite five decades of US interdiction efforts with an average annual expenditure of $5 billion. Instead of curbing the flow of cocaine into the United States, all that has been accomplished is making the drug trafficking operations more widespread and harder to eradicate. Putting pressure on one route or location simply leads traffickers to scatter and regroup. This is the "balloon effect," where suppressing traffic or production in one area prompts it to pop up elsewhere, and the "cockroach effect," where traffickers simply decentralize their operations.

"Between 1996 and 2017, the Western Hemisphere transit zone grew from 2 million to 7 million square miles, making it more difficult and costly for law enforcement to track and disrupt trafficking networks," Wrathall said. "But as trafficking spread, it triggered a host of smuggling-related collateral damages: violence, corruption, proliferation of weapons, and extensive and rapid environmental destruction."

And for all that effort, the impact on cocaine price and availability has been negligible -- or even perverse.

"Wholesale cocaine prices in the United States have actually dropped significantly since 1980, deaths from cocaine overdose are rising, and counterdrug forces intercept cocaine shipments at a low rate. More cocaine entered the United States in 2015 than in any other year," Wrathall said. "And one thing people who support interdiction and those who don't can agree on is that change is needed. This model can help determine what that change should look like."

The main takeaway from the study is not that drug trafficking became more widespread and resilient because of ineffective interdiction efforts, but because of interdiction itself. The policy aimed at suppressing the drug trade has only made it stronger and wealthier.

"The study is a victory for observation and theory. This model successfully recreates the dynamic our team had observed," Wrathall said. "It tells us that increased interdiction will continue to push traffickers into new areas, spreading networks, and allowing them to continue to move drugs north."

Maybe it is time to try something different.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Chronicle AM: Bill Barr's Drug Warrior Past, Iran Warns Sanction Could Bring "Deluge of Drugs," More... (12/10/18)

Trump's sanctions could come back to bite us, Iran warns; Trump's new attorney general pick has some solid drug warrior credentials, the WHO postpones a recommendation on marijuana scheduling, and more.

Iran interdicts more opium and heroin than any other country. (UNODC)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Governor-Elect to End Former Governor's Court Battles Over Medical Marijuana. Incoming Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is parting ways with his predecessor, Rick Scott (R), when it comes to medical marijuana. A spokesman for DeSantis said last Friday that he is unwilling to continue Scott's court battles over the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. "He is not interested in continuing that fight. I think he has a different perspective than Governor Scott," said spokeswoman Jeannette Nunez. "I think he wants the will of the voters to be implemented."

Foreign Policy

US Sanctions Could Lead to "Deluge of Drugs," Iran Warns. If US sanctions imposed by the Trump administration weaken Iran's ability to contain the opium trade from neighboring Afghanistan, the result could be a "deluge" of drugs, President Hassan Rouhani warned in a speech carried on state television last Friday. "I warn those who impose sanctions that if Iran's ability to fight drugs and terrorism are affected... you will not be safe from a deluge of drugs, asylum seekers, bombs and terrorism, Rouhani said. "We spend $800 million a year to fight drugs which ensures the health of nations stretching from of Eastern Europe to the American West and North Africa to West Asia. Imagine what a disaster there would be if there is a breach in the dam," Rouhani said. "We don't expect the West to pay their share, but they should know that sanctions hurt Iran's capacity to fight drugs and terrorism."

Law Enforcement

Trump's New Attorney General Pick Has Record as Drug Warrior. The president's pick to be the new attorney general, former Attorney General William Barr, may be less hostile to marijuana than Jeff Sessions, but as attorney general under George HW Bush, he pushed hard for more incarceration of drug offenders. More recently, he wrote a 2015 letter defending the criminal justice system as not in need of serious reform and defending mandatory minimum sentencing in particular, while encouraging Congress not to act on a sentencing reform bill. "It's hard to imagine an Attorney General as bad as Jeff Sessions when it comes to criminal justice and the drug war, but Trump seems to have found one," Michael Collins, director of national drug affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. "Nominating Barr totally undermines Trump's recent endorsement of sentencing reform."

International

WHO Postpones Recommendation for Rescheduling Marijuana. Saying it needed more time to review findings, the World Health Organization (WHO) postponed making any recommendation on rescheduling marijuana. The recommendation was expected to be made at last Friday at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna, but that didn't happen. No new date has been provided.

Mexico's New Government Takes Aim at Cartel Finances. Mexican Financial Intelligence Unit head Santiago Nieto announced last Thursday that he had filed a complaint against three businesses and seven people linked to the Jalisco New Generation cartel. Nieto said that was only the opening salvo in the fight to stop organized crime from flourishing with impunity.

Four Ways Fentanyl Could Radically Disrupt the Global Drug Trade

The synthetic opioid fentanyl isn't just killing American drug users by the thousands. Its emergence also signals a shift in the decades-old contours of the global drug trade, with ramifications not only for traditional drug-producing countries and drug trafficking networks but also for US foreign policy.

Black market fentanyl is not just wreaking havoc on the streets of American cities. (Creative Commons)
Synthesized from chemicals -- not from papaver somniferum, the opium poppy -- fentanyl is about 50 times stronger than heroin and is severely implicated in the country's drug overdose crisis, accounting for almost 20,000 deaths in 2016.

Illicit fentanyl is typically mixed with other opiates, such as heroin, resulting in much stronger doses of opioids than users expect, thus leading to opioid overdoses. But it is also increasingly also showing up in non-opiate drugs, resulting in fentanyl overdose deaths among unsuspecting methamphetamine and cocaine users.

But the havoc super-potent fentanyl is wreaking among drug users pales in comparison with the dramatic changes it could prompt in the global illicit drug production industry. As academic researchers Vanda Felbab-Brown, Jonathan Caulkins, and Keith Humphreys write in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, fentanyl's rise has the potential to cause disruption and innovation in black markets.

Here are four ways fentanyl alters the illegal drug production and distribution status quo:

1. It doesn't require an agricultural base. Virtually all of the other opioids on the black market, from heroin to morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone, require land to grow poppies on. And they require land that is outside cdthe effective control of the state. Non-state actors who can control such areas, whether it's the Taliban in Afghanistan or the drug cartels in southern and western Mexico, reap the profits and power of that control. With the ascent of lab-produced fentanyl made out of chemicals, traditional opiate producers should see their profits and their influence undermined.

2. It doesn't require a large workforce. Traditional opium production requires a large seasonal workforce of people to plant and tend the poppies, score the pods and scrape off the leaking opium, and then process and package the raw opium. Other workers will get jobs processing raw opium into heroin. All of those jobs bring money into the hands of poor agricultural families and political capital to the traffickers, whether it's the Taliban in Afghanistan or the cartels in Mexico. With fewer job opportunities to offer up, the traffickers lose clout.

3. It doesn't require an elaborate smuggling infrastructure. Because fentanyl is so potent, small amounts of the drug can contain huge numbers of doses, and that means it doesn't require transportation networks of trucks, planes, and boats to get an agricultural crop from the valleys of Afghanistan or the mountains of Mexico to consumers in the US Fentanyl is so potent, medicinal doses are measured in micrograms, and packages of it worth hundreds of thousands of dollars can fit inside a Priority Mail envelope. With smuggling fentanyl as easy as dropping a package in the mail, international drug smuggling organizations now have competition they never had before.

4. All of this can change the dynamics of US foreign policy. If plant-based opiates lose market share to synthetics in the future, this can weaken both insurgencies (Afghanistan) and criminal networks (Mexico). Ever since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, drug warriors have been constrained in their efforts to go after the Afghan opium crops because of fears it would drive poppy-dependent peasants into the hands of the Taliban. If opium production becomes relatively less important vis-à-vis fentanyl production, that constraint on an aggressive US response to Afghan opium production is weakened. Similarly, in Mexico, to the degree that fentanyl displaces peasants and processors and weakens the link between drug cartels and rural populations, it increases the ability of the Mexican government and its American backers to crack down even harder on the cartels.

Under drug prohibition, there is a strong impetus to come up with more pure, more potent, and more compact products. Fentanyl is the ultimate expression of that imperative, and its arrival is changing the contours of the global drug industry. Who knows how it will play out?

Illinois Cop's Warning: If You Legalize Weed, We'll Have to Kill Our Drug Dogs

As the state legislature ponders a bill that could make Illinois the 10th state to legalize marijuana, law enforcement is getting nervous. Old anti-marijuana shibboleths have lost their potency, but the Macon County Sheriff's Office has a brand new reason not to free the weed: They will have to kill their drug dogs.

drug dog at work (Creative Commons)
As the Daily Pantagraph reported in an article about what happens to marijuana-sniffing drug dogs in states where it is legal, the dogs typically are trained to detect a number of drugs and it is difficult to retrain them not to alert on marijuana. Other states that have legalized it have either retired their pot-sensitive dogs, tried to retrain them, or used them to search for large, illicit amounts of marijuana.

But Chad Larner, training director of the K-9 Training Academy in Macon County, scoffed at the notion of retraining, saying it would be "extreme abuse" to try to do so, and "Larner said a number of dogs would likely have to be euthanized."

That claim is a ridiculous "red herring," Illinois NORML executive director Dan Linn told the Pantagraph. "The idea that legalizing for adults to have an ounce on them will equal… all these dogs being euthanized, that seems kind of ridiculous and hyperbolic," he said.

Other Illinois drug dog cops contacted by the Pantagraph largely agreed with Linn. They said retired drug dogs "typically live with their handlers" and they "dismissed the idea that any would be euthanized because of retirement."

The Macon County sheriff doesn't go as far as his drug dog trainer, but he is a staunch opponent of marijuana legalization because… drug dogs.

"The biggest thing for law enforcement is, you're going to have to replace all of your dogs," said Macon County Sheriff Howard Buffett. "So to me, it's a giant step forward for drug dealers, and it's a giant step backwards for law enforcements and the residents of the community."

Sheriff Buffett isn't just any sheriff. He's the son of Omaha billionaire investor Warren Buffett, and he's used his family wealth both to finance law enforcement spending in the county and to basically buy his way into the sheriff's office. Earlier this year, he announced that his Howard G. Buffett Foundation was donating $1.4 million to the county to pay for everything from new records systems to new guns and ballistic vests. He was appointed to his position by retiring Sheriff Thomas Schneider last September and will serve until a new sheriff is elected in November.

Buffett also financed drug dogs across the state. His foundation paid $2.2 million in 2016 to support drug dog units in 33 Illinois counties. No wonder he and his employees are doing the 2018 version of the classic National Lampoon cover: "Buy This Magazine or We'll Kill This Dog."

Chronicle AM: MO MMJ Inits Hand in Beaucoup Signatures, OH Racial Profiling Drug Dogs, More... (5/7/18)

Two separate Missouri medical marijuana initiatives appear set to qualify for the November ballot, the Utah medical marijuana initiative is generating organized opposition -- including the DEA -- Canada's prime minister says it's full steam ahead for marijuana legalization, and more.

Black drivers in Ohio are more likely to get drug dogs sicced on them than white ones, official data shows. (Wikimedia)
Medical Marijuana

Missouri Initiative Campaigns Hand in Many Signatures. New Approach Missouri and Find the Cure, the folks behind a pair of medical marijuana initiatives (they differ only on how regulations would work and where tax dollars would go), announced last Friday that they had handed in roughly double the number of signatures they need to come up with 160,000 valid voter signatures. Find the Cure said it had handed in more than 300,000 signatures, while New Approach Missouri said it had handed in more than 370,000. Although initiative petitions occasionally see half of their signatures get disqualified, it's far more typical for them to lose a third. If both initiatives make the ballot, the one with the most votes on election day wins.

Michigan Regulators Recommend Approving 10 New Qualifying Conditions. The state's Medical Marihuana Review Panel has recommended the approval of 10 new conditions that could qualify people to use medical marijuana. That's out of a list of 22 conditions people had asked the panel to review. The conditions include obsessive compulsive disorder, arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel diseases, Parkinson's, Tourettes, spinal cord injury, autism, and chronic pain. The recommendations now go to Shelly Edgerton, the director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, who has until July 10 to make a final decision.

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Gets Organized Opposition, Including the DEA. Organized opposition to the Utah Patients Coalition's medical marijuana initiative has emerged, and it includes a local DEA task force, raising questions about a federal agency interfering in a state-level ballot question. Drug Safe Utah is recruiting paid canvassers to try to get voters who signed initiative campaigns to retract their signatures. Its members include the Utah Medical Association and the DEA's Salt Lake City Metro Narcotics Task Force.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Three Democratic Senators Urge FDA to Pull High-Dose Opioids from Market. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Ed Markey (D-MA) are urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to remove ultra-high dose opioids from the market because of concerns about "accidental ingestion, borrowed medication, and recreational use." The senators said patients who need high dose opioids could just take more pills, patches, or other formulations. "We believe these ultra-high dose opioids can be removed from the market without imposing hardship on those with legitimate pain needs," the senators wrote. But the Academy of Integrative Pain Management disagreed, saying the pulling the high dose opioids would "in some situations, create a greater danger because patients would be required to have several times more pills available to meet their needs. The burden of this would fall on the sickest patients, including those with cancer and/or receiving palliative/hospice/end-of-life care, whose quality of life would be diminished."

Racial Profiling

Ohio Highway Patrol More Likely to Use Drug Dogs on Black Drivers. The Associated Press has examined records on highway stops that show the state Highway Patrol uses drug-sniffing dogs on black drivers at a disproportionate rate. Blacks account for about 13% of the state population and 14% of drivers stopped by troopers, but 28% of stops where drug dogs were used. The AP made the records request after a federal appeals court criticized the arrest of a black driver on the Ohio Turnpike in 2014 and threw out the evidence used to convict him.

International

Canadian PM Says Marijuana Legalization Plan Will Proceed Without Delay. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last Thursday that his plan to legalize marijuana this summer will proceed without delay, despite misgivings being voiced in the Senate. "We're going to continue to move forward. We're going to bring in legalization as we've committed to this summer on schedule," Trudeau said.

Nigeria Bans Codeine. Responding to the rising recreational use of codeine-based cough syrups, the Nigerian federal government last week banned further imports of codeine into the country. The move comes as the country attempts to rewrite its drug and mental health policies.

Chronicle AM: New Gallup Poll Has Record Support for Marijuana Legalization, More... (10/25/17)

Nearly two-thirds of Americans now support marijuana legalization, and even more in Connecticut, the House passes a bill increasing funding for drug interdiction, the GAO reports on five years of US drug war spending in Latin America, Afghanistan has a whopping record opium crop, and more.

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

Gallup Poll Has Legalization Support at Record High, Approaching Two-Thirds. A Gallup poll released Wednesday has support for marijuana legalization at a record high 64%, up four points from last year and twice as high as just 17 years ago. The poll also includes another first: For the first time, a majority of Republicans support legalization.

Connecticut Poll Has Legalization Support Above 70%. A new Sacred Heart University Institute for Public Policy poll has support for legalization at a whopping 70.6%. That includes both "strongly support" and "somewhat support." Among people under 35, 83.2% wanted to legalize it, and even 73.6% of residents with children in the household were supportive. Legalization should be on the legislative agenda next year.

Washington State Marijuana Sales Top $1 Billion Mark This Year. By the end of September, retail marijuana sales topped $1.1 billion, according to data released by the State Liquor and Cannabis Board. That's just short of Colorado's figure of $1.118 billion so far this year.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Bill Would Create Federal Task Force to Fight Fentanyl and Heroin. US Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Evan Jenkins (R-VA) filed HR 4090, the Fentanyl and Heroin Task Force Act, on Monday. The bill would create a multi-agency task force including members of Customs and Border Protection, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, the IRS, the International Trade Administration, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the US Postal Inspection Service. The task force would coordinate federal efforts to go after fentanyl trafficking groups and identify the sources of heroin and fentanyl production and distribution. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

House Passes Bill to Beef Up Customs, Border Patrol to Wage Drug War. The House voted 412-3 to approve HR 2142, the INTERDICT Act. The bill appropriates funds to pay for new screening devices, laboratory equipment, facilities, and personnel needed to enforce prohibition against fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. A companion measure in the Senate hasn't moved yet.

Foreign Policy

GAO Report: US Spent $39 Billion Fighting Drugs in Western Hemisphere in Five Years. Between 2010 and 2015, US agencies implementing the National Drug Control Strategy spent $39 billion trying to block the flow of drugs from Latin America into the United States. That includes the Defense Department, Homeland Security's ICE, Homeland Security's CBP, the Coast Guard, the Justice Department's DEA and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces, the State Department, and the Agency for International Development. Given the huge drug flows from south of the border, it doesn't seem to be working that well.

State Department Wants Stronger Anti-Drug Efforts from Mexico. A day after the DEA identified Mexican drug trafficking groups as the key criminal threat in drug enforcement, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told a business meeting in Mexico that Mexico needed to do more to help. "More rigorous, collaborative efforts to confront the threat posed by the production and distribution of heroin and fentanyl are a priority for the United States," Sullivan said in remarks reported by ABC News.

International

Afghanistan Has Record Opium Harvest This Year. The opium poppy crop this year is a record and more than double last year's crop, according to Afghan Counter-Narcotics Minister Salamt Azimi. He blamed high levels of insurgency for preventing eradication programs from operating. Last year's crop was estimated at 4,700 tons, but this year's will likely exceed 10,000 tons.

Chronicle AM: House Blocks Sessions Civil Asset Forfeiture Move, More... (9/13/17)

The House votes to defund Attorney General Sessions' newly revived Equitable Sharing asset forfeiture program, Maine lawmakers want a 20% sales tax on weed, Duterte allies in the Philippines vote to defund the country's human rights commission over its critique of the drug war, and more.

The attorney general isn't smiling over the House's asset forfeiture vote. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Lawmakers Want to Double Pot Sales Tax. In a draft bill released Tuesday, the legislature's marijuana legalization committee is recommending a 20% sales tax on recreational marijuana. Earlier, the committee had supported a 10% excise tax and a 10% sales tax, but now it's going all sales tax.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Supreme Court Refuses to Lift Restrictions on Medical Marijuana for PTSD. The state Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected without comment an argument from the Arizona Cannabis Nurses Association that the former state health director had illegally imposed restrictions on when doctors can recommend the drug for PTSD. The high court's decision leaves intact an earlier Court of Appeals ruling upholding the restrictions. Attorneys for the association say they may take the case to federal court on equal protection grounds.

Asset Forfeiture

House Slaps Down Sessions' Move to Reinstate Equitable Sharing Program. In a surprise move, the House voted virtually unanimously Tuesday to curb federal asset forfeitures, a slap in the face to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions had reinstated a federal civil asset forfeiture program that allowed state and local law enforcement to evade state forfeiture restrictions by handing their cases over to the feds, with the feds then returning 80% of the money to the seizing agency. The move came in a voice vote on an amendment to the Justice Department appropriations bill, which was sponsored by strange bedfellows Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Mark Sanford (R-SC), Raúl Labrador (R-ID), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Don Beyer (D-VA).

Foreign Policy

Feinstein, Grassley Fret Over Colombian Cocaine. The two senior senators, chair and co-chair of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Affairs, expressed worries Tuesday that a peace deal between Colombia and the leftist rebels of the FARC had led to a surge of cocaine being imported into the US. Feinstein also used the Senate hearing to express concern that the Trump administration will not adequately fund interdiction law enforcement efforts.

International

Philippine Congress Budgets Measly $20 to Fund Human Rights Commission. No, that's not a typo, and no, we didn't forget some zeroes. Lawmakers allied with President Rodrigo Duterte voted Tuesday to allocate just 1,000 pesos (USD $20) for the Commission on Human Rights, which has repeatedly criticized Duterte's bloody drug war, which has left thousands dead at the hands of police and vigilantes. The funding move was explicit retaliation for the commission's criticism of the human rights disaster. In a Facebook post responding to the move, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Agnes Callamard said Filipinos deserved an independent organization that could hold the government accountable for its misdeeds. "Instead they are getting a 'war on drugs' which, by the president's own account, has failed to curtail addiction rates, while creating a climate of fear and insecurity, feeding impunity, and undermining the constitutional fabrics of the country," she wrote. "If the Philippines Congress is looking for public money being wasted, damaging and hurting the Philippines society, this is it."

Chronicle AM: Drug Policies Fueling Hep C Rise, MI Init Begins Signature Drive, More... (5/19/17)

The CDC issues a damning report about drug policy and Hep C, the clock is ticking on the Vermont legalization bill as the governor ponders his choices, Michigan legalizers hit the streets with petitions for 2018, and more.

State-level policies toward injection drug users can influence Hep C rates -- for better or worse. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Legalization Initiative Signature Gathering Gets Underway. The state Board of Canvassers Thursday gave its go-ahead for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol to begin signature gathering for its marijuana legalization initiative, and the group immediately sent canvassers onto the streets. The measure would legalize up to 2.5 ounces and 12 plants for adults and create a system of legal marijuana commerce. The campaign needs a little more than 252,000 valid voter signatures within six months to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.

Texas Poll Has Majority Support for Legalization. A new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll has a slight majority for marijuana legalization, with 32% saying small amounts should be legalized and 21% saying any amount should be legalized. That's 53% for some form of legalization. Some 30% said only medical marijuana should be legal, while only 17% said no form of marijuana should be legal.

Vermont Clock Ticking on Legalization Bill -- Governor Has Five Days to Veto or Not. The state legislature sent the legalization bill it approved -- Senate Bill 22 -- to Gov. Phil Scott (R) on Thursday. Under state law, he has five days to sign or veto the bill. If he fails to act, the bill becomes law without his signature. He is facing heavy pressures on all sides. Stay tuned.

Drug Policy

High Hep C Rates Linked to Drug Policy Failures. A report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention finds that 17 states had high rates of Hep C because they lacked laws and Medicaid policies to prevent drug users from being infected with the disease or obtaining treatment once they did. Seven of those states had a Hep C rate more than twice the national average, and all the others also had above average rates. The report said the states needed to focus more on reducing intravenous drug users' Hep C risk by enacting laws such as allowing pharmacies to sell syringes to the public and by enacting Medicaid policies that do not require patients to be drug free for a certain people before getting treatment. "It is important for policy makers and public health officials to work together to understand the various needs of particular populations to prevent HCV transmission and disease," the report concluded.

International

Trump-Santos Meeting Shows Divergence on Drug Policy. As President Trump and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos addressed reporters at a White House press conference Thursday, clear drug policy differences emerged. While Trump emphasized "building the wall," or an interdiction-based strategy, Santos declined to endorse that strategy, explaining that drug policy is a complex international issue that requires innovation and collaboration. "We declared the war on drugs 40 years ago -- the world declared the war on drugs -- and it's a war that has not been won. We must be more effective and more efficient," Santos said.

California's Six Largest Cash Crops: Marijuana is a Monster [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

California's agricultural bounty is fabled, from the endless olive and almond groves of the Central Valley to the world-class grapes of the Napa Valley to the winter vegetables of the Imperial Valley to the garlic fields of Gilroy, and beyond. But the biggest item in California's agricultural cornucopia is cannabis.

According to report last week from the Orange County Register, California's marijuana crop is not only the most valuable agricultural product in the nation's number one agricultural producer state, it totally blows away the competition.

Using cash farm receipt data from the state Department of Food and Agriculture for ag crops and its own estimate of in-state pot production (see discussion below), the Register pegs the value of California's marijuana crop at more than the top five leading agricultural commodities combined.

Here's how it breaks down, in billions of dollars:

  1. Marijuana -- $23.3
  2. Milk -- $6.28
  3. Almonds -- $5.33
  4. Grapes -- $4.95
  5. Cattle, calves -- $3.39
  6. Lettuce -- $2.25

That estimate of $23.3 billion for the pot crop is humongous, and it's nearly three times what the industry investors the Arcview Group estimated the size of the state's legal market would be in the near post-legalization era. So, how did the Register come up with it, and what could explain it?

The newspaper extrapolated from seizures of pot plants, which have averaged more than two million a year in the state for the past five years, and, citing the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, used the common heuristic that seizures account for only 10% to 20% of drugs produced. That led it to an estimate of 13.2 million plants grown in the state in 2015 (with 2.6 million destroyed), based on the high-end 20% figure.

It then assumed that each plant would produce one pound of pot at a market price of $1,765 a pound. Outdoor plans can produce much more than a pound, but indoor plants may only produce a few ounces, so the one-pound average figure is safely conservative.

The $1,765 per pound farm gate price is probably optimistic, though, especially for outdoor grown marijuana, which fetches a lower price than indoor, and especially for large producers moving multi-dozen or hundred pound loads.

They grow pot plants by the millions in the Golden State. (Twitter)
And maybe law enforcement in California is damned good at sniffing out pot crops and seizes a higher proportion of the crop than the rule of thumb would suggest. Still, even if the cops seized 40% of the crop and farmers only got $1,000 a pound, the crop would still be valued at $8 billion and still be at the top of the farm revenue heap.

And it would still exceed the estimate of what the state's legal marijuana market would look like -- in 2020. Arcview estimated revenues of $6.5 billion by then under legalization. For 2015, the year the Register is looking at, Arcview pegged the state's legal (medical) market at $2.8 billion.

Even making conservative assumptions about the value of the pot crop, it's clear that California pot producers are growing billions of dollars' worth of marijuana that is not accounted for by the state's legal market. Where does it all go? Ask any of those state troopers perched like vultures along the interstate highways heading back east.

That's a phenomenon that's not going to stop when California's legal marijuana market goes into full effect. It's not going to stop until people in states like Illinois and Florida and New York can grow their own. In the meantime, California pot growers are willing to take the risk if it brings the green.

2016: People Still Killed in US Drug War at the Rate of One a Week [FEATURE]

With 2016 now behind us, it's time for some year-end accounting, and when it comes to fatalities related to drug law enforcement, that accounting means tallying up the bodies. The good news is that drug war deaths are down slightly from last year; the bad news is that people are still being killed at the rate of about once a week, as has been the norm in recent years. There were 49 people killed in the drug war last year.

This is the sixth year that Drug War Chronicle has tallied drug war deaths. There were 54 in 2011, 63 in 2012, 41 in 2013, 39 in 2014, and 56 in 2015, That's an average of just a hair under one a week during the past six years.

The Chronicle's tally only include deaths directly related to US domestic drug law enforcement operations -- full-fledged, door-busting, pre-dawn SWAT raids, to traffic stops turned drug busts, to police buy-bust operations. Some of the deaths are by misadventure, not gunshot, including several people who died after ingesting drugs in a bid to avoid getting busted and two law enforcement officers who separately dropped dead while.

Many of those killed either brandished a weapon or actually shot at police officers, demonstrating once again that attempting to enforce drug prohibition in a society rife with weapons is a recipe for trouble. Some of those were homeowners wielding weapons against middle-of-the-night intruders who they may or may not have known were police.

But numerous others were killed in their vehicles by police who claimed suspects were trying to run them down and feared for their lives when they opened fire. Could those people have been merely trying to flee from the cops? Or were they really ready to kill police to go to avoid going to jail on a drug charge?

Which is not to understate the dangers to police enforcing the drug laws. The drug war took the lives of four police officers last year, one in a shootout with a suspect, one in an undercover drug buy gone bad, one while doing a drug interdiction training exercise at a bus station, and one while engaged in a nighttime drug raid over a single syringe. That's about par for the course; over the six years the Chronicle has been keeping count about one cop gets killed for every 10 dead civilians.

Here are December's drug war deaths:

On December 7, in Dallas, Texas, Keelan Charles Murray, 37, shot and killed himself as local police operating as part of a DEA drug task force attempted to arrest him for receiving a package of synthetic opioids. Police said they were clearing the apartment when they heard a gunshot from upstairs. A Duncanville police officer then shot Murray in the shoulder, and Murray then turned his own gun on himself. Murray was locally notorious for having sold heroin to former Dallas Cowboy football player Matt Tuinei, who overdosed on it and died in 199. Dallas Police are investigating.

On December 11, in White Hall, West Virginia, Marion County police attempting to serve a drug arrest warrant shot and killed Randy Lee Cumberledge, 39, in the parking lot of the local Walmart. Police said they spotted Cumberledge's vehicle, but when they approached and ordered him to show his hands, he put his vehicle into gear and "drove aggressively" toward a deputy. Both the deputy and a White Hall police officer opened fire, killing Cumberland. There was no mention of any firearms recovered. The West Virginia State Police are investigating.

On December 12, in Byron, Georgia, member of a Peach County Drug Task Force SWAT team shot and killed Rainer Smith, 31, when he allegedly opened fire on them with a shotgun as they forced their way into his home to arrest him. Smith wounded two Byron police officers before return fire from police killed him. Police said no one answered the door when they arrived, so they forced their way in, and were immediately met by gunfire. Smith's live-in girlfriend and infant daughter were in the home with him. They were uninjured. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating.

On December 21, in Knox, Indiana, Knox Police shot and killed William Newman, 46, as they attempted to arrest him for possession of methamphetamine, failure to appear for dealing meth, and violating parole. Police said Knox attempted to flee, almost running down an officer, and they opened fire. He died in a local hospital hours later. The Indiana State Police are investigating.

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