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MS MedMJ Sales Begin, Myanmar Opium Production Increases, More... (1/27/23)

A Minnesota marijuana legalization bill is cruising right along, Hong Kong bans CBD as a "dangerous drug," and more.

Opium production is Myanmar has jumped dramatically since the military coup nearly a year ago. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Keeps Advancing. A marijuana legalization bill, House File 100, has won approval in the House Labor and Industry Finance and Policy Committee Thursday. That's the fourth committee to approve it in the House. Meanwhile, a companion bill in the Senate was approved by the Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee.

Ohio Bill Would Protect Drivers with THC in Their Systems. State Sen. Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville) has filed Senate Bill 26, which would protect drivers from facing charges for having THC in their system as long as they can prove they were not impaired. The bill would remove the per se limits for marijuana and marijuana metabolites for the purpose of determining whether the driver was Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence (OVI). Without a set per se level (where the state assumes one is intoxicated), the bill effectively removes the automatic license suspension for those caught with THC in their systems.

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Sales Have Begun in Mississippi. Nearly a year after medical marijuana was legalized in the state, the first legal sales have taken place. The first sales occurred Wednesday at The Cannabis Company in Brookhaven and at two Oxford dispensaries, Hybrid Relief and Star Buds. More than 1,700 patients are currently enrolled in the state's medical marijuana program. Voters approved a medical marijuana initiative in 2020, only to have it invalidated by the state Supreme Court. The legislature then passed a bill authorizing it.

International

Hong Kong Bans CBD as "Dangerous Drug." As of next Wednesday, Hong Kong will ban CBD, a cannabinoid that does not produce the same psychoactive effects as its more potent fellow cannabinoid, THC. "Starting from February 1, cannabidiol, aka CBD, will be regarded as a dangerous drug and will be supervised and managed by the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance,"customs intelligence officer Au-Yeung Ka-lun said ."As of then, transporting CBD for sale, including import and export, as well as producing, possessing and consuming CBD, will be illegal,"he added.

Mexican Senator Will File Bill to Legalize Natural Psychedelics for Treatment of Mental Health Problems. Sen. Alejandra Lagunes of the Ecological Green Party of Mexico (PVEM) said Wednesday she will present a bill to legalize and regulate natural psychedelics for the treatment of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. She made the comments at the Intercultural Forum on Entheogenic Medicine, which was held in the federal Senate."It’s scientifically proven that psilocybin from psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline from peyote, DMT from ayahuasca and the Colorado River toad are not drugs. They have a high therapeutic potential, low toxicity and don’t create physical dependence or abuse,"she said.

Myanmar Opium Production Booming After Coup, UNODC Says. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a new report that opium production is up 33 percent since the military took over the government in February 2021. Farmers in parts of the country have "little option" but to grow opium, reversing years of efforts to reduce poppy planting, said UNODC regional representative Jeremy Douglas. said "At times like these many farmers see opium as particularly attractive – given predictable demand and the fact that brokers will typically buy the entire crop at the farm gate," said International Crisis Group Myanmar advisor Richard Horsey.

Drug Decrim Bills Filed in MA, NY; Colombia to Reduce Forced Coca Eradication, More... (1/26/23)

Delaware bills to legalize marijuana are moving, a North Carolina medical marijuana bill is filed, and more.

A Colombian coca farmer. The Petro government is moving away from forced eradication efforts. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Health and Human Development Committee on Wednesday approved House Bill 1, which would legalize marijuana. The vote comes just one day after another committee approved House Bill 2, which would set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. Rep. Ed Osienski (D), sponsor of the bills, said he expected House floor votes in March.

DC Council Files Bill to Allow Legal Marijuana Sales. Despite an ongoing congressional ban blocking the District of Columbia from allowing legal marijuana sales, DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and six other council members have introduced a revised bill, Bill 25-0052,  to create a regulated legal marijuana commerce market. DC voters legalized marijuana in 2014, but the congressional rider in place since then has thwarted efforts to allow legal sales. The bill would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of weed and grow up to six plants, three of which could be mature. It also creates a regulatory agency, which would approve licenses for cultivators, manufacturers, microbusinesses, retailers, and testing facilities, and sets a tax rate of up to 13 percent (6 percent for medical marijuana).

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina GOP Senators File Medical Marijuana Bill. On the first day bills could be filed in the new General Assembly session, Senators Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) and Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick) filed Senate Bill 3, which would legalize medical marijuana in the state. Known as the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act, the bill allows the use of medical marijuana for a specified list of debilitating conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, Crohn’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The pair filed a similar bill last year that passed the Senate but never got any traction in the House.

Drug Policy

Massachusetts Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Samantha Montaño (D) has filed HD 2741, which would eliminate a section of state stature that prescribes criminal penalties for drug possession. Instead of fines or jail, people caught with drugs would be required to participate in "a needs screening to identify health and other service needs, including but not limited to services that may address any substance use disorder and mental health conditions, lack of employment, housing, or food, and any need for civil legal services." Anyone who provided proof they had completed a screening within 45 days would see their citations dismissed.

New York Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D) has filed a bill, Senate Bill 2340, that would eliminate criminal and civil penalties for drug possession while also creating a task force that’d be responsible for studying and making recommendations about additional reforms. Under the bill, people caught with drugs could either pay a $50 fine or take part in a "needs screening to identify health and other service needs, including but not limited to services that may address any problematic substance use and mental health conditions, lack of employment, housing, or food, and any need for civil legal services." The bill also calls for a drug decriminalization task force that would be charged with making "recommendations for reforming state laws, regulations and practices so that they align with the stated goal of treating substance use disorder as a disease, rather than a criminal behavior."

International

Colombia Will Reduce Forced Coca Eradication Efforts. The government of President Gustavo Petro announced Tuesday that it will be reducing coca eradication efforts in what would be a major shift of policy for Colombia. A new National Policy will reduce forced eradication efforts by 60 percent as the government experiments with alternative approaches to the coca cultivation problem. The Petro government is considering implementing a program agreed to a part of the 2016 peace deal with the FARC that provides subsidies to coca farmers in exchange for voluntary eradication. Although that agreement was part of the deal, it was never implemented by former President Duque, who opposed the overall treaty. 

Another Good Pot Poll, OR Bill to Re-Criminalize Drug Possession, More... (1/18/23)

Oregon Republicans want to undo the will of the voters on drug decriminalization, Mexico's former top security official is now on trial in New York for taking bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel, and more.

Former Mexican Public Security Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna is now on trial in NYC on drug corruption charges. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Another Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization, Social Equity. A new poll from Data for Progress has two-thirds (65 percent) support for marijuana legalization -- in line with a number of recent pot polls. Some 75 percent of Democrats were in favor, as were 67 percent of independents, and even 52 percent of Republicans. The poll also asked about two measures of social equity and found support for both. Some 57 percent of respondents said they would support reserving an initial round of business licenses for people negatively impacted by the war on drugs, while 65 percent said they would support directing a large portion of marijuana tax funds for "community-based initiative programs, such as job placement and skill services, substance use treatment programs, and financial literacy courses."

Drug Policy

Oregon Republicans File Bill to Undo Voter-Approved Drug Decriminalization. Led by Rep. Lily Morgan (R), a group of Republican lawmakers have filed House Bill 2973 to "repeal Measure 110's dangerous drug legalization. "Measure 110 was the voter-approved 2020 initiative that decriminalized -- not legalized -- the possession of personal use amounts of drugs and directed that a portion of marijuana tax revenues go to support drug prevention and treatment. The bill is now before the House Committee on Behavioral Health and Health Care.

Law Enforcement

Trial for Mexico's Former Top Security Official on Drug Corruption Charges Now Underway in New York City. Genaro Garcia Luna, who served as then-President Felipe Calderon's security secretary between 2006 and 2012, went on trial in federal court in Brooklyn on Tuesday. He is accused of accepting millions of dollars in bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel in exchange for helping its members move drugs and avoid capture. This was precisely the period when Calderon accelerated his country's war on drug by deploying the military, starting an era of deadly cartel wars that has yet to let up. Garcia Luna moved to the US after leaving office and was arrested here in 2019. The trial is expected to last for around eight weeks and should uncover the inner workings of the cartels' strategies for continuing to be able to operate despite the government's declared war against them.

NH Bill Would Legalize Psychedelics, Federal Bill Would Ensure Gun Rights for MedMJ Patients, More... (1/17/23)

A New York bill would end civil asset forfeiture, a Utah bill would decriminalize fentanyl test strips, and more.

Evo Morales may no longer be president of Bolivia, but he still has his eye on the region. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

GOP Congressman Files Bill to Protect Gun Rights of Medical Marijuana Patients. The first piece of marijuana reform legislation in the new Congress is a bill that would allow medical marijuana patients to purchase and possess firearms. Sponsored by Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV), along with Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), the Second Amendment Protection Act seeks to amend federal law around the "sale, purchase, shipment, receipt, or possession of a firearm or ammunition by a user of medical marijuana." Under current law, people who use marijuana can't buy or possess guns because they're considered to be "an unlawful user of or addicted to"a federally controlled substance. Mooney filed a similar bill in 2019, but it did not advance.

Psychedelics

New Hampshire Bill to Legalize Possession of Psychedelics Filed. Rep. Kevin Verville (R) has filed House Bill 328, which states that the "possession or use of a hallucinogenic drug by a person 21 years of age or older shall not be an offense."It would also reduce penalties for LSD manufacturing and possession by people under 21. The bill does not name specific drugs, but state statute lists mescaline, peyote, psilocybin, and LSD as examples of hallucinogenic substances. The bill has been referred to the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Asset Forfeiture

New York Bill Would End Civil Asset Forfeiture and Opt State Out of Federal Forfeiture Program. Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter (D) and eight Democratic cosponsors have filed Assembly Bill 641, which would end civil asset forfeiture in the state and replace it with a criminal process. Passage of the bill would also effectively opt the state out of a program that allows police to circumvent more strict state forfeiture laws by passing cases off to the feds. Under the bill seizures could occur only if the "prosecuting authority secures a conviction of a crime that authorizes the forfeiture of property and the prosecuting authority establishes by clear and convincing evidence the property is an instrumentality of or proceeds derived directly from the crime for which the state secured a conviction." The bill would also require that seized funds be deposited in the state's general fund. Under current law, police can keep up to 60 percent of asset forfeiture proceeds, creating an incentive for "policing for profit." The bill is now before the Assembly Codes Committee.

Harm Reduction

Utah Bill to Decriminalize Fentanyl Test Strips Filed. State Sen. Jenifer Plumb (D) has filed Senate Bill 86, which would legalize the use and possession of fentanyl test strips. Under current state law, the test strips are criminalized as drug paraphernalia, but the bill would create an exemption from liability under the state Controlled Substances Act. Test strips are an increasingly popular harm reduction measure in the fight to reduce fentanyl-related drug overdoses. The bill is now in the Senate Rules Committee.

International

Former Bolivian President and Coca Grower Setting Up Regional Organization. Former Bolivian President Evo Morales, forced out of office in the wake of disputed elections in 2019, will set up the headquarters of his plurinationalist, indigenist movement in the region in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The movement will convene next week with coca growers from Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, as well as Bolivia as Morales commences what he described as a struggle for the "plurinational peoples of Latin America." Continuing strife in Peru after the arrest and jailing of leftist President Castillo in December, as well as continuing strife in Bolivia's Santa Cruz province after the arrest of rightist Gov. Luis Fernando Camacho have placed Bolivian coca growers under unprecedented hardships. Morales rose to power as a Bolivian coca grower leader and still controls six coca grower unions in the Chapare.

GOP Rep Wants to Use Military Force Against Mexican Cartels, MN Legal Pot Bill Advances, More... (1/12/23)

A North Dakota bill would increase monthly THC limits for medical marijuana patients, a South Dakota bill would bar pregnant or breast-feeding women from getting medical marijuana cards, and more.

The Mexican military can't handle the cartels and the US military should help, a GOP congressman says. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins First Committee Vote. A Democratic marijuana legalization bill, House File 100, was approved on a voice vote in the House Commerce Finance and Policy Committee Wednesday and has now been referred to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee, the second of what could be as many as a dozen committee hurdles. The bill would allow people 21 and over to possess up to two ounces in public and up to five pounds at a residence, as well as allowing the gifting of amounts up to those limits. It also allows for the home cultivation of four mature and four immature plants, and it would set up a system of taxed and licensed marijuana commerce.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Senate Approves Bill to Raise Patients' 30-Day THC Limit. The Senate has approved Senate Bill 2068, which increases the amount of THC in products such as tinctures and lotions that patients may purchase in a 30-day period. The limit is currently 4,000 milligrams, and the bill originally would have doubled that to 8,000 milligrams, but bill sponsor Sen. Kristin Roers (R-Fargo) amended it down to 6,000 milligrams after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-3 for a "do not pass" recommendation. The measure now heads to the House.

South Dakota Bill Would Bar Pregnant or Breast-Feeding Women from Access to Medical Marijuana. Anti-marijuana and anti-abortion zealot Rep. Fred Deutsch (R-Florence) has filed a bill that would block the Health Department from issuing medical marijuana cards to pregnant or breast-feeding women, House Bill 1053. The bill has been referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee. Deutsch served as treasurer for Protecting South Dakota Kids, a ballot measure committee that successfully opposed the 2022 marijuana legalization initiative and he also is a past president of South Dakota Right to Life, an anti-abortion group.

Foreign Policy

GOP Congressman Will File Bill to Authorize Use of Military Force Against Mexican Cartels. US Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL) said over the weekend that he plans to introduce a bill that would authorize the use of certain US military capabilities against drug trafficking organization in Mexico. "They are defeating the Mexican army. These are paramilitary entities with billions and billions at their disposal," he said during an appearance on Fox's Sunday Morning Futures. But he specified that his proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Forces would not include placing the US military in combat in Mexico: "I'm not talking about US troops. But I am talking about cyber, drones, intelligence assets, naval assets." Former president Donald Trump also recently called for using US special forces, cyber warfare and other capabilities to "inflict maximum damage on cartel leadership, infrastructure, and operations." The Trump administration also considered designating cartels as foreign terrorist organizations, and a bill to the effect has been filed in the Senate.

Psychedelic Reform Bills Popping Up, No Federal Pot Possession Prisoners, More... (1/10/23)

The Wisconsin GOP may finally be ready to embrace medical marijuana, the US Sentencing Commission says there are no more federal pot possession prisoners, and more.

President Biden met with Mexico's president Monday. Fentanyl was one of the issues on his mind. (whitehouse.gov)
Medical Marijuana

Wisconsin GOP Lawmakers Move Closer to Legalizing Medical Marijuana. For years, the Republican-controlled legislature has fended off any and all efforts to advance marijuana reforms, but it could be different this year. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu has said that he thinks a bill to create a medical marijuana program in the state could be passed this legislative session as long as regulations are put forward to ensure it's for those in serious pain. "Our caucus is getting pretty close on medical marijuana," LeMahieu said, marking the first time the Republican Senate leader has expressed support for the notion. Republican Assembly Leader Robin Vos has in recent years expressed support for medical marijuana, while Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has long called for the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana. Two-thirds of Wisconsinites support legalizing marijuana and a super-majority of 80 percent support medical marijuana.

Psychedelics

Lawmakers in Nearly a Dozen States Have Already Filed Psychedelic Bills. With the legislative season just getting underway this year, lawmakers in nearly a dozen states have already filed psychedelic reform bills, with measures ranging from legalizing psilocybin for therapeutic purposes to broadly decriminalizing natural plants and fungi. The states with psychedelic reform efforts already underway are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Virginia. Click on the link above for details on efforts in each state.

Foreign Policy

White House Readout on Biden's Meeting with Mexican President Vows Cooperation on Fentanyl. As well as general language about strengthening bilateral cooperation between the two countries, the White House readout of Monday's meeting between President Biden and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador also containing language directly pertaining to the smuggling of fentanyl across the US-Mexico border: "The two leaders also reviewed security cooperation under the Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health, and Safe Communities and discussed increased cooperation to prosecute drug traffickers and dismantle criminal networks, disrupt the supply of illicit precursor chemicals used to make fentanyl, shut down drug laboratories, and prevent trafficking of drugs, arms, and people across our shared border."

The relationship between US and Mexican drug law enforcers remains fraught in the wake of the October 2020 arrest of former Mexican defense minister Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos by DEA agents in Los Angeles and his elease two months later in the face of intense pressure from Mexico, with Lopez Obrador accusing the DEA of "fabricating" charges against him.

[Ed: Whether it's possible to interdict cross-border fentanyl shipments in sufficient quantities to affect the prevalence of the substance is not clear, and the history of interdiction is not encouraging. Whether doing so would ultimately reduce prevalence in the US is also not clear, as much of the fentanyl comes from China, and it can be manufactured anywhere including the US.]

Sentencing

Sentencing Commission Reports No One in Federal Prison for Simple Marijuana Possession. In a report released Tuesday, the US Sentencing Commission (USSC) notes that: "As of January 2022, no offenders sentenced solely for simple possession of marijuana remained in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons." The USSC also found that the number of people convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law has declined from 2,172 in fiscal year 2014 to only 145 in fiscal year 2021. It also found that one state -- Arizona -- largely drove the federal pot possession arrest numbers, accounting for 1,916 convictions in 2014 but dropping to just two in 2021. Those Arizona arrests appear to be linked to anti-immigration campaigns in the state: Federal marijuana possession offenders in the past five years were 71 percent Hispanic and 60 percent non-citizens.

CT Legal Adult Pot Sales Begin Tomorrow, OH Governor Signs Fentanyl Test Strip Decrim Bill, More... (1/9/23)

A Mexican judge has blocked the extradition of El Chapo's son to the US, you can now get a license to grow your own marijuana in Missouri, and more.

You can grow your own pot plants in Missouri -- if you get a license from the state. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Adult Marijuana Sales Begin Tomorrow. Adult legal marijuana sales are set to begin tomorrow, January 10. At least nine existing medical marijuana dispensaries have undergone the bureaucratic steps necessary to transition to adult sales tomorrow, with up to another 40 that could open by the end of the year. Initial sales will be limited to a quarter ounce of buds or its equivalent per transaction. The restrictions are in place to ensure adequate supply for medical marijuana patients and will be reviewed over time. Dispensaries in New Haven, Branford, Torrington, Newington, Stamford, Willimantic, Danbury, Montville and Meriden successfully completed the necessary steps to convert to a "hybrid license" and will be allowed to sell to all adults beginning tomorrow.

Missouri Home Cultivation Licenses Now Available. People who want to grow their own under the state's new marijuana legalization regime will have to be licensed to do so, and those licenses are now available. Personal cultivation application forms and instructions are available from the Missouri Cannabis Regulation Division. The license costs $100 and must be renewed annually. People can grow up to six clones, six nonflowering plants, an six flowering plants at the same time. Missouri is the only state to impose a licensing requirement on home growers.

Harm Reduction

Ohio Governor Signs Fentanyl Test Strip Decriminalization Bill into Law. Gov. Mike DeWine (R) has signed into law House Bill 456, which decriminalizes the possession of fentanyl test strips as part of an effort to reduce overdoses. The new law exempts the test strips from the definition of drug paraphernalia. The move makes Ohio the 32nd state to move to decriminalize fentanyl test strips, with a half dozen doing so last year.

International

Mexican Judge Halts Extradition of El Chapo's Son to US. A day after 29 people, including 10 soldiers, died in a wave of violence following his arrest in Culiacan, the extradition of Ovidio Guzman, the son of imprisoned drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, to face charges in the United States has been blocked by a Mexican judge. In the ruling last Friday, the federal judge also suspended a ban on Guzman from communicating with his legal team and family. Guzman faces charges on a US warrant dating back to September 2019. He had been arrested in Culiacan in October 2019 but was quickly released on orders of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador because of violent cartel retaliation.

SC MedMJ Bills, Violence Rocks Mexican City as El Chapo's Son Arrested, More... (1/6/23)

The Mexican cartel leader who escaped during Sunday's Tijuana prison attack has been shot dead, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rejects hair testing for drugs, and more.

No hair testing for truck drivers, the federal regulator says. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Sees Two Medical Marijuana Bills Pre-Filed. With the legislative session set to begin next week, lawmakers in Columbia have already pre-filed two separate medical marijuana bills. The Put Patients First Act (House Bill 3226) is cosponsored by Democratic Minority Leader Todd Rutherford and freshman Republican Rep. Jay Kilmartin. It would make marijuana available to registered patients with a doctor's recommendation. The bill would allow caregivers and dispensaries to "cultivate, grow, and dispense marijuana for medical use." The other bill, the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act (House Bill 3486) also has bipartisan sponsors and would "authorize the use of cannabis products by patients with debilitating medical conditions who are under the care of a physician, with exceptions."

Drug Testing

Federal Regulator Rejects Hair Testing for Truck Drivers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has denied a petition calling on the agency to recognize hair samples as an alternative drug-testing method for truckers. The FMCSA was responding to request from an industry association, the Trucking Alliance, to recognize hair testing as a valid form of drug testing. But federal regulations require that truck drivers be tested by urinalysis, and the FMCSA pointed to that language to restate its longstanding position that it has no statutory authority to accept hair testing. Hair testing detects the presence of drugs for months, as opposed to days for urinalysis.

International

Mexico's Sinaloa Sees Deadly Clashes as Troops Arrest El Chapo's Son. Mexican Army and National Guard troops successfully arrested Ovidio Guzman, the son of imprisoned drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, in the Sinaloa state capital, Culiacan, on Thursday (as opposed to 2019, when they arrested and then released the younger Guzman in the face of cartel threats). But the arrest came at a high cost, as subsequent clashes between Sinaloa cartel forces and the military left 10 soldiers and 19 cartel gunmen dead. The reaction to the bust also included attacks on the Culiacan airport and military helicopters by cartel gunmen, as well as burning buses and private vehicles used to blockade city roadways. The bust comes just days before President Biden is set to visit Mexico and the US-Mexico border.

Mexico Cartel Leader Who Escaped Tijuana Prison During Attack Sunday Killed in Shootout with Cops. Ernesto Alfredo "El Neto" Pinon, the long-imprisoned leader of the Sinaloa cartel affiliate the Mexicles, who escaped prison in Juarez during a deadly attack and breakout on Sunday, was tracked down by intelligence agents and shot and killed in Tijuana on Thursday. At least 19 guards and prisoners were killed in the assault, with another seven people, including police killed in another confrontation Monday. El Neto's killing brings the overall death toll now to 27.

MS Makes Naloxone Available for Free, PA Fentanyl Test Strips Now Decriminalized, More... (1/4/23)

Violence continues in Ciudad Juarez in the wake of a deadly Sunday prison break, Mississippi has created a web site where residents can order free naloxone, and more.

fentanyl test strips (Creative Commons)
Harm Reduction

Mississippi Makes Naloxone Available for Free. After nearly 600 people died of drug overdoses in 2021, the last year for which full numbers are available, the state is moving to ease access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). The Department of Health has begun a program under which people need only log onto a state website, answer a few questions, and watch a training video, and the department will then send them a free naloxone kit. Or they can download a voucher and have it filled at a local pharmacy. To apply for the free Narcan, visit odfree.org/get-naloxone.

Pennsylvania Law Decriminalizing Fentanyl Test Strips Now in Effect. A new law, Act 111, that decriminalizes fentanyl test strips went into effect Monday. The law achieves this by amending the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act of 1972 to no longer define the test strips as drug paraphernalia. Fentanyl test strips (FTS) are a low-cost method of helping prevent drug overdoses and reducing harm. FTS are small strips of paper that can detect the presence of fentanyl in all different kinds of drugs (e.g., cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin) and drug forms (pills, powder, and injectables).

International

Sinaloa Cartel Gang Leader Among Those Who Escaped in Ciudad Juarez Prison Attack. Among the 27 prisoners who successfully fled a Ciudad Juarez prison as it was attacked Sunday was Ernesto "El Neto" Pinon, the long-imprisoned leader of the Mexicles, a Juarez gang affiliated with the Sinaloa cartel. The attack and jailbreak left 10 guards and seven prisoners dead, with two escaped prisoner later killed by authorities. Pinon had been jailed at the prison since 2010 on a 224-year sentence for murder. Authorities blamed the prison assault on the Mexicles, saying it was attacked by at least 25 of them. Also among the escapees was the Mexicles' number-two man, Cesar Vega.

Death Toll Rises as Mexican Authorities Hunt Down Juarez Prison Attackers, Escapees. At least seven people were killed in a gunfight as Chihuahua state investigators worked to hunt down the perpetrators of Sunday's attack on a Ciudad Juarez prison, as well as 25 prisoners who escaped. The attack was orchestrated by the Mexicles, a Juarez gang long affiliated with the Sinaloa cartel, who long-imprisoned leader and his number two were among the escapees. In the Tuesday shootout, two state investigators and five Mexicles members died.

The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2022 [FEATURE]

Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly in international drug policy developments in 2022. (Read about 2022's good, bad and ugly in domestic drug policy here.)

1. The Taliban Bans Opium

With the withdrawal of US and coalition forces and subsequent rapid collapse of the Afghan government in August 2001, the Taliban once again took power in Kabul. During its earlier rule, it banned opium cultivation in 1997 (with little impact) and again in 2000. But after the Taliban was overthrown in late 2001, the country saw two decades of massive opium production, making Afghanistan the world's leading supplier of opium and heroin, accounting for more than 80 percent of global supply throughout this century.

Upon resuming its control of the country, the Taliban once again instituted a ban on opium cultivation, making a formal announcement of a ban in April 2022. Even now, at the end of the year, it is too early to tell how serious the Taliban are or how effective the ban will be, although UN Special Representative in Afghanistan Roza Otunbayeva reported in December that there is evidence the ban is being implemented. "Fields planted before and after the declaration have been destroyed," she said. "We will not be able to verify the actual implementation of this ban until early next year but the intention behind it is commendable. Nonetheless, the ban will have a negative effect on the income of individual farmers as few alternative livelihood programs were put in place."

This year, though, the opium crop is "the most profitable in years," the UN reported in November, with cultivation up by nearly a third and prices soaring because of the looming ban. Sowing of the 2023 crop was supposed to be done by November, and it is unclear how much uncertainty about how the ban will be enforced has affected the sowing of the crop. The answer will come in the spring when it is harvest time for the poppy crop.

2. Colombia Elects a Former Guerrilla Drug War Critic as President

In an election that has overturned a decades-long status quo in Colombian politics and threatens to upend US-Colombia relations, former leftist guerrilla and Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro won the presidency in June. He beat his competitor, Trumpian businessman Rodolfo Hernández, by a margin of 50.44% to 47.03%.

Petro is a harsh critic of the US-imposed war on drugs, which he says has cost a million Latin American lives even as the US has spent $20 billion since the days of Plan Colombia to wage a drug war entwined with a vicious counterinsurgency. That spending may have helped drive the leftist guerrillas of the FARC to the negotiating table -- a peace accord was signed in 2016 -- but it has not stopped the coca and cocaine trade, which is now undergoing a boom.

After Petro's election, but before he took office in August, a truth commission appointed as part of the 2016 peace accords called for the government to quit focusing on suppressing illicit drugs and instead take the global lead in moving to "strict legal regulation" of those substances. It recommended a new approach to illicit drug production that focuses more on sustainable development and less on the eradication of coca. The commission's recommendations are non-binding, but Petro has said he will follow them.

Petro has been in office for less than six months, but he already held a first assembly of coca growers and called for a regional assembly to discuss hemispheric drug policy. He has also angered the US by vowing not to extradite drug traffickers, and threatening to move toward cocaine decriminalizationand ban the spraying of coca fields with herbicides.

Cocaine decriminalization is not happening yet, but marijuana legalization is. A legalization bill has passed the House and Senate, clearing the way for final votes early next year. Look for Colombia to continue to steer a course away from drug war orthodoxy as the Petro presidency continues.

3. Duterte Leaves Office but His Philippine Drug War Legacy Lingers

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte became ex-president Duterte in June, having finished his six-year term and leaving a legacy of bloody drug war killings. The Philippines National Police have officially admitted killing more than 6,200, but human rights groups put the total toll of dead in Duterte's drug war at around 30,000, with many killed by shadowy vigilantes.

The widespread drug killings under Duterte were condemned by Western governments and human rights groups and sparked an investigation by the International Criminal Court as a possible crime against humanity.

Duterte's successor, President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., the son of the deposed former dictator, is attempting to portray his own drug policies as distinct from Duterte's lethal efforts, but he's made clear that he is not planning to undertake a policy change, his claim to focus on rehabilitation has yet to substantially materialize, and the government's few current "drug rehabilitation" programs are involuntary, coercive, and expose drug users to further stigma.

And Philippines police are continuing to kill people in the name of fighting drugs, albeit at a lower level than during the Duterte era. In November, police tried to claim the death toll was "very minimal," saying only 46 people had been killed since June 30, when Marcos took office. But the government's habit of lying, obstructing, and obfuscating, so well developed under Duterte, appears to remain intact under Marcos. An independent estimate from the University of the Philippines Third World Studies Center put the actual number of people killed in drug war incidents at 127, nearly three times the police number.

4. Mexico's Drug War Continues Unabated

Four years into his six-year term, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) is having no more luck with his "kisses not bullets" approach to his country's violent drug trafficking organizations than his predecessors did with their various efforts to rein in the so-called cartels. After four years of AMLO, the country has seen 140,000 murders, most of them committed by the cartels. That is a 61 percent increase over the same four-year period under his immediate predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto.

AMLO has also scrapped the Federal Police, replacing them with the National Guard, which he wants to fold into the armed forces. In a worrying sign, the military is now shouldering more and more of the overall responsibility for dealing with violent.

And it is not working. The competing cartels periodically take a respite from trying to kill each other and go to work terrorizing the state and its agents, as was the case in August and September, when the cartels and allied gangs rampaged across four states, shutting down roads and businesses, burning vehicles and businesses, and attacking police and troops, including a stunning series of attacks in Tijuana.

Meanwhile, the cartels continue to work away assiduously at their main enterprise: exporting massive amounts of methamphetamine and fentanyl into the United States.

5. Canada's British Columbia Wins Approval for Drug Decriminalization

Faced with an intractable drug overdose problem, British Columbia, long a leader in progressive approaches to drug policy, in October 2021 requested an exemption from the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to allow it to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. Health Canada granted that exemption in June 2022.

The new measure goes into effect on January 31, 2023 and will extend three years to January 31, 2026. Under the decrim plan, possession of up to 2.5 grams of those drugs (cumulatively) will not result in arrest or confiscation of the drugs. While decriminalization is a first in Canada, activists in Vancouver and throughout the province are critical of the low weight limits and of the fact that minors will continue to be arrested regardless of the weight of the drugs they are carrying.

British Columbia's pending drug decriminalization will be first for Canada, but it's not the first in North America. Mexico decriminalized drug possession in 2009 and Oregon voters decriminalized drug possession in 2020.

6. Saudi Arabia Resumes Death Penalty for Drug Offenses

After halting executions of drug offenders in January 2020, Saudi Arabia suddenly and without warning resumed them on November 10. Two weeks later, it announced that 20 men had been executed for drug offenses. Dozens of people remain on death row for drug offenses and face imminent execution.On November 22, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Saudi government to halt the imminent execution of one drug prisoner and called on the Saudi authorities to adopt an official moratorium on executions for drug-related offenses, commute death sentences for drug-related offences, and guarantee the right to a fair trial for all defendants, including those accused of committing such crimes, in line with the law and its international obligations.

Nearly three dozen NGOS led by the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, Harm Reduction International, and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty have called on the International Narcotics Control Board and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to act on urgent measures in response to the series of drug-related executions carried out by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since November 10.

Globally, 146 countries, including 20 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, have abolished the death penalty. The United Nations does not consider drug offenses to be among the most "serious" crimes that would warrant the death penalty, and resort to the death penalty for such offenses contradicts the standards of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the International Narcotics Control Board.

7. Pakistan Moves to End Death Penalty for Drug Offenses

At year's end, Pakistan's lower house, the National Assembly, passed the Control of Narcotic Substances Amendment Bill 2022, which abolishes the death sentence for drug dealing and converts it into a life sentence. The bill comes as the country has seen a spate of executions for different sorts of offenses since 2014, when it lifted a six-year moratorium on the death penalty in the wake of a terrorist attack on an army school that left 132 children dead.

The vote came just weeks after Saudi Arabia's execution of three Pakistani nationals when it suddenly resumed drug executions in November.

Earlier in the year, the Senate Standing Committee on Anti-Narcotics approved keeping the death penalty for certain trafficking offenses, but in September, President Arif Alvia approved the amendment allowing for life sentences instead.

8. Russia Weaponizes Its Draconian Drug Laws to Turn American Athlete Brittney Griner into a New Cold War Political Pawn

Russia has long used its draconian drug laws against its own citizens, including dissidents, but this year the Kremlin was able to deploy them as a means of pressuring the United States when Russian customs officials arrested American women's basketball star on drug trafficking charges as she entered the country to play off-season pro ball a week before Russian troops invaded Ukraine.

Russia has theoretically adopted the decriminalization of small-scale drug possession, but officers commonly find just enough of a drug to file criminal charges, as was the case with Griner. Although Griner was found with vape cartridges containing less than a gram of medically-recommended cannabis oil, she was charged not with drug possession but with smuggling "a significant amount" of proscribed drugs, a crime that carries a prison sentence of up to ten years.

She was duly convicted in a Russian court and sentenced to 9 ½ years in a Russian prison, creating an embarrassment and distraction for the Biden administration, which faced mounting pressure to win her release. After months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, a prisoner swap was announced, and Griner was released in December in exchange for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who had been sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in prison in 2011 (after already serving three years in pretrial detention).

9. European Countries Move Down Path to Marijuana Legalization

Late last year, Malta became the first European country to legalize marijuana, and this year, several other countries have been taking steps along the same path. In June, Luxembourg move to enact marijuana reforms, although it has retreated from "legalization" to "regulation," and is proposing the decriminalization of up to three grams of marijuana and allowing the cultivation of up to four plants at home. The government had originally proposed full-blown commercial legalization back in 2018 and says that still remains its goal.

In October, Germany unveiled its marijuana legalization plan. The health ministry rolled out a plan that includes the decriminalization of the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana as well as allowing for the sale of marijuana to adults in a regulated marketplace. The German government will also consult with the European Union's executive commission to ensure that the legalization plan complies with EU laws and will move forward "on this basis" only if the EU approves.

And in November, the Czech Republic began drafting a marijuana legalization bill. The country has already legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana for adult use, but the country's center-right governing coalition has now begun the process of a drafting a full marijuana legalization bill. The issue was pushed by the Czech Pirate Party, the smallest member of the governing coalition, which said legalization would "make the Czech Republic a freer country" and "bring billions into public budgets."

10. Thailand Kind of, Sort of Legalizes Marijuana

In June, the Thai government removed marijuana from the country's narcotics list, allowing people to grow all the weed they want and freeing more than 3,000 marijuana prisoners. But the law only legalizes marijuana extracts containing less than 0.2 percent THC, meaning that while people can grow all the plants they want, consuming what they produce will remain technically illegal, as is the case with sales now.

But that has not stopped the use and sale of full-potency marijuana. What began as a flowering of edibles and tinctures shops in June has now morphed into a full-blown recreational marijuana scene, with thousands of dispensaries of dubious legality and the government impotently warning a tide of marijuana tourists they are not welcome.

The government's marijuana moves have been confusing and controversial, and the government is attempting to bring some order to the situation with a 95-article Marijuana Bill that seeks to regulate gray areas around cultivation, consumption, and sales. That bill is expected to be passed before the country's next general in May.

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