Source and Transit Countries

RSS Feed for this category

MD Pot Poll, Detroit Will Vote on Psychedelic Reform Next Week, More... (10/26/21)

The DEA selects some old blood to review its overseas operations, a new Maryland poll shows a slight decline in support for marijuana legalization--but still a majority--and more. 

Marijuana Policy

Maryland Poll Show Slight Dip in Support for Marijuana Legalization. Support for marijuana legalization in the state has dropped from 67 percent in March to 60 percent now, according to a new Goucher Poll. The poll has nearly two-thirds of Democrats supporting legalization, while just under half of Republicans do. The poll comes as the state legislature ponders whether to send a marijuana legalization question to the ballot next year.

Psychedelics

Detroit Will Vote on Natural Psychedelics Lowest Priority Initiative Next Week. Voters in Detroit will have a chance next Tuesday to approve municipal Proposal E, which would "make the personal possession and therapeutic use of Entheogenic Plants by adults the city's lowest law-enforcement priority." The proposal includes natural plant- and fungi-based psychedelics, such as peyote and magic mushrooms, but not synthesized psychedelics, such as LSD. If the measure passes, Detroit would join Ann Arbor among Michigan cities that have embraced psychedelic reforms. Ann Arbor decriminalized psychedelic plants in September 2020. A similar measure has been introduced in the state Senate by Sens. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit) and Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor).

Law Enforcement

DEA Announces Foreign Operations Review Team. In August, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced a comprehensive review of DEA’s foreign operations strategy to assess effectiveness, strengths, and areas for improvement. The agency announced Tuesday that the team will be led by two unreconstructed drug warriors, former DEA Administrator Jack Lawn and former Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Boyd Johnson, who conducted and supervised investigations in all eight of DEA's global regions. Johnson is currently a senior partner with the WilmerHale law firm, where he specialized in cross-border reviews around corruption, money laundering, and fraud. 

Luxembourg Set to Legalize Marijuana, OH GOP Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming, More... (10/25/21)

New Hampshire continues as the lone northern New England holdout on marijuana legalization, Luxembourg is now set to become the first European country to free the weed, and more.

Colombian drug trafficker Dairo Antonio Usuga, "Otoniel," under arrest this past weekend. (ENC)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio GOP Lawmaker to File Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Lake County) is set to announce Tuesday that he will file a bill to legalize marijuana, including the growth, processing, and distribution of marijuana and marijuana products. The move comes as activists work to put a marijuana legalization ballot measure before voters in November 2022.

New Hampshire House Committee Kills Marijuana Legalization Bills. The House Criminal Justice Committee last Wednesday killed bills that would legalize and tax marijuana and allow people to grow up to six plants at home. The vote fell mainly along party lines with Republicans opposed and Democrats in favor. New Hampshire is the only northern New England state to yet approve marijuana legalization.

Psychedelics

Massachusetts Town Becomes Fourth in State to Pass Psychedelic Reform Measure. The Easthampton City Council voted unanimously last Wednesday to approve a resolution calling for the decriminalization of certain psychedelics and other drugs. The resolution is non-binding but sends a message to local law enforcement that the status quo of criminalization is eroding. The cities of Cambridge, Northampton, and Somerville have also passed psychedelic reform measures in recent months, and there are both decriminalization and psychedelic study bills awaiting action in the state legislature.

International

Colombians Capture Most Wanted Drug Trafficker. Colombian police and military forces with assistance from the US captured, better known as Otoniel, at his jungle hideout near the Panamanian border Saturday. Otoniel is the leader of the country's most powerful drug trafficking organization, the Gulf Clan, taking control of the organization after Colombian police killed his brother nearly a decade ago. President Ivan Duque cheered the bust, saying it was the most significant blow to drug trafficking since the killing of Pablo Escobar in 1993. But analysts such as Sergio Guzman of Colombia Risk Analysis warned that Otoniel's arrest "is not going to move the needle in terms of the war on drugs. Soon we'll have another kingpin and another drug lord who may be much worse."

Luxembourg Set to Become First European Country to Legalize Marijuana. The national government announced last Friday that the country will legalize the possession, cultivation, and distribution of marijuana. Under the proposed legislation, people will be able to grow up to four plants at home. In the meantime, fines for the possession of up to three grams will drop from $291 to $29. While the new legislation has the backing of the government coalition, a vote in parliament is still required to approve it. No word yet on when that will happen.

Canada's Trudeau Urged to Decriminalize Drugs, Spain's Socialists Reject Marijuana Legalization, More... (10/21/21)

Britain's Labor leader rejects drug decriminalization, Spain's ruling Socialists reject marijuana legalization, Peruvian coca growers protest, and more.

International

British Prime Minister Says He Will Examine Latest Advice on Legalization of Psilocybin. In response to a question in Parliament from Tory MP Crispin Blunt, who said the drug had "exciting potential" and urged him to review the law to allow more research into psilocybin's therapeutic qualities, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday he would: "I can say that we will consider the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs recent advice on reducing barriers to research with controlled drugs such as the one he describes, and we will be getting back to him as soon as possible." Psilocybin is currently a Schedule I substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act, which means it requires a Home Office license to conduct research, and Blunt and other campaigners want it moved to Schedule 2 to make it easier to conduct research.

British Labor Party Leader Says He Would Not Decriminalize Drugs. Asked if a Labor government would either decriminalize drugs, Labor Party leader Sir Keir Starmer said it would not. The comment comes after Scotland's Lord Advocate called for diverting from prosecution people caught with small amounts of drugs. Starmer criticized the notion even as he accused the Scottish National Party of having an "appalling" drug overdose death. When asked about the Lord Advocate's advice made sense, Starmer said: "The Lord Advocate has set up principles and we have not seen the detail yet, which will come out shortly. I do not think what happens in Scotland should be a general application across the UK. One of the benefits of devolution is to allow each of the nations to look separately in context to the challenges they have. But if I was prime minister of the UK I would not be introducing that."

Canadian Prime Minister Urged to Decriminalize Drug Possession. Nearly 70 organizations across the country, including the HIV Legal Network, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, and the National Association of Women and the Law, have written a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau asking him he make drug policy reform a priority for his newly re-elected Liberal government. Even though  Trudeau's Liberal Party approved a decriminalization resolution in 2018, Trudeau has so far rejected the move, but pressure is rising along with the number of drug overdose deaths. The groups are calling for immediate drug decriminalization and a safe drug supply, saying that the overdose deaths are driven by "a contaminated drug supply and the stigma associated with drug use."

Costa Rica Congress Approves Medical Marijuana. The Congress on Tuesday approved the legalization of medical marijuana over opposition from President Carlos Alvarado. The law allows for the cultivation and processing of marijuana for medical use but does not allow for recreational use. Lawmakers are calling on Alvarado not to veto the bill. If he does, the bill would have to be passed again with a supermajority.

Peru Coca Farmers Protest Goverment Crop Eradication. Hundreds of coca leaf growers are in the fifth day of a highway blockade as they protest the destruction of their crops by the government. The protest began with the eradication of coca fields in Carabaya province, in the Puno region. Growing coca leaf is legal for farmers who are on a registered government list, but that list has not been updated since 1978. The demonstrators, who mainly voted for President Pedro Castillo, are calling on him to stop the eradication of unpermitted crops.

Spanish Socialist Party Votes Against Legalizing Marijuana. The ruling Socialist Party (PSOE) joined with rightist opposition groups in opposing a bill to legalize marijuana that was sponsored by its coalition partner Unidas Podemos. In opposing the measure, the Socialists aligned themselves with the conservative Popular Party and the extremist right Vox Party. That tactical alliance was able to defeat the bill 263-75. "This is not a question of the right or the left, it is a question of public health," said PSOE lawmaker Daniel Vicente in Congress, adding: "We are a government party."

Senate Democrats Move to Allow Legal DC Marijuana Sales, Ecuador State of Emergency for Drugs, More... (10/20/21)

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is confronting drug policy issues as he visits Latin America this week, New York tells employers it can't test workers for marijuana use, and more.

Colombian peasants don't wand to be sprayed with coca-killing herbicides. (DEA Museum)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Democrats Move to Let DC Legalize Marijuana Sales. In a package of spending bills unveiled Monday, Senate Democrats have removed a long-standing rider that has blocked the city of Washington, DC, from implemented legal marijuana sales for the past six years. The House took similar action earlier this summer, even though President Biden kept the rider in his budget proposal to Congress. It is not quite a done deal yet, though: Congress must still pass the budget, which is expected to happen in December. The move won plaudits from the marijuana advocacy group NORML, which said: "The omission of the D.C. rider acknowledges the local will of the residents of the District, who overwhelmingly favor retail marijuana sales. The only reason the District is unable to defy the federal government’s marijuana prohibition policies in the same way that other states have is that it lacks statehood and is under direct oversight from Congress."

New York Employers Cannot Test Workers for Marijuana, State Says. The state Labor Department issued new guidance for employers Tuesday that bans them from testing workers for marijuana—unless the employee appears visibly impaired on the job. "Observable signs of use that do not indicate impairment on their own cannot be cited as an articulable symptom of impairment," the guidance states. The new guidance does not apply to workers, such as commercial vehicle drivers, who are subject to drug testing under state or federal law.

Foreign Policy

Human Rights Watch Letter Urges State Department to Support Human Rights, Oppose Coca Spraying in Colombia. In a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken ahead of his meeting Wednesday in Bogota with Colombian President Ivan Duque, Human Rights Watch called on the US government to support human rights, noting that "President Duque’s administration has pursued several misguided and dysfunctional polices, including on drug policy, and there has been an increase in abuses by armed groups." The group called for "a strong public and private response by the Biden administration" to curb violence by armed groups, police abuses against protestors, and oppose plans to reinstate the fumigation of coca crops with glyphosate. On coca eradication, Human Rights Watch called for the US to "unequivocally oppose plans to reinstate fumigation of coca crops with glyphosate," fully fund crop substitution programs and ensure protection for people involved in them, and "assess US drug and security policies in Colombia to ensure that they help address the root causes of violence by strengthening the presence of civilian state institutions."

International

Ecuador President Declares State of Emergency to Fight Drugs on Eve on US Secretary of State Visit. Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso on Monday declared a 60-day state of emergency to confront drug trafficking and a rising number of killings. Under the emergency decree, the military will join drug and arms confiscation operations in nine of the country's 24 provinces, including Guayas, the home of Guayaquil, the country's primary port and largest city. The crackdown will also see increased police patrols and is "oriented towards and focused on guaranteeing citizens... protection from crime and violence." At a Tuesday press conference, visiting US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said he understood that countries must sometimes take such measures but added that democratic norms must be upheld.

Philippines Says It Will Review Thousands of Drug War Killing. Faced with a looming formal investigation into drug war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC), Philippines Justice Minister Menardo Guevarra said his Justice Department will enlarge its review of more than 6,000 drug killings for which Philippines police have taken responsibility (Human rights groups put the actual number of killings at more than 30,000, many of them conducted by shadowy death squads.) "Time and resources permitting, the DOJ will review these thousands of other cases, too," Guevarra said in an apparent shift from the Duterte government's unyielding defense of its policies but also in an apparent effort to blunt the ICC's investigation. The Duterte government argues that it does not need to cooperate with the ICC because its own justice system is capable of dealing with police huma rights abuses. Guevarra's remarks came as the Justice Department released details of 52 drug war killings.

Book Review: The Dope [FEATURE]

The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade by Benjamin T. Smith (2021, W.W. Norton, 462 pp, $30 HB)

This past weekend, top-level American officials were in Mexico City meeting with their Mexican counterparts to discuss rebuilding cooperation in the endless struggle against Mexican drug trafficking organizations. The meeting comes nearly 15 years after then-President George W. Bush and then-Mexican President Felipe Calderon initiated the Merida Initiative to fight drugs, crime, and violence. In 2007, when the Merida Initiative began, there were about 2,300 drug-related deaths in Mexico. Fifteen years and $1.6 billion in US security assistance later, the annual Mexican death toll is north of 30,000, American overdose deaths largely linked to Mexican-supplied fentanyl are at an all-time high, and despite killing or capturing dozens of "kingpins," the so-called "cartels" are more powerful than ever.

In The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade, Mexico historian Benjamin T. Smith relates the story of another meeting between American and Mexican officials more than 80 years ago. It was at the League of Nations in 1939, and Mexican diplomat Manuel Tello was trying to sell the assembled narcotics experts on a novel approach to opioid addiction: Post-revolutionary Mexico had just passed a new drug law that allowed for state-run morphine dispensaries. Doing that could treat addiction and allow users to get their fix without resorting to a black market, he argued.

That proposal, one much in vogue in harm reduction and public health circles these days, was shot down by none other than Harry Anslinger, head of the American Federal Bureau of Narcotics and self-appointed dope cop to the world. He made it clear to the Mexicans, who had also irked him by challenging his Reefer Madness propaganda, that no such nonsense would be tolerated. That encounter, Smith's narrative makes clear, is emblematic of the US-Mexico relationship when it comes to drugs. The US, with its insatiable appetite for mind-altering substances, has for decades leaned on Mexico to repress the trade its citizens demand, and the results have for decades been dire.

As Smith shows, US pressure on Mexico to ramp up its anti-drug efforts, particularly in the 1940s and 1970s, produced temporary results but also long-term pathologies. Where Mexican authorities had been happy to manage the trade rather than repress it, Washington demanded strict enforcement and aggressive action. Harsher enforcement, including the resort to torture and murder (with the knowledge, encouragement, and sometimes the participation of DEA agents), produced a meaner criminal underworld. Smith especially notes the American insistence on a broad strategy of relying on informants as an aggravating factor in escalating trafficker violence, as traffickers turned on each other for revenge or to protect themselves from potential rats.

Smith also clarifies that the drug trade has always been seen not just as a scourge but as a resource by elements of the Mexican state. Early on, a post-revolutionary governor in Sinaloa taxed the opium traffickers and used the proceeds for public works. Governors in border states like Baja California and Chihuahua followed suit, taxing the trade, protecting favored traffickers and making exemplary busts of those without favored status to please the Americans. Although, as he notes, the politicians increasingly tended to forget the public works and just pocket the money themselves.

Smith described the structure of the relationship between the Mexican state and the drug traffickers as more a "protection racket" than an adversarial one Prior to the 1970s, the racket was carried out at the state level, with the governors and the state police forces providing the protection. Levels of violence were generally low, but likely to spike when a change of administration meant a new set of players in the racket and a new set of favored and disfavored traffickers. The favored traffickers could get rich; the unfavored ones could get jailed or killed as sacrificial lambs to appease the Americans.

In the 1970s, though, both the repression and the protection racket went national, with the mandate to fight the drug trade (and the license to manage it) going to the dreaded federales and their masters in the Ministry of Justice and the presidential palace. The levels of violence increasingly dramatically as the federales and the armed forces pleased the Americans by arresting, torturing, and killing marijuana- and opium-growing peasants as well as traffickers. Traffickers who could once accommodate themselves to the occasional exemplary short prison sentence now fought back when faced with death or years behind bars.

But in this century, thanks largely to fabulous profits from the cocaine trade, the drug traffickers have flipped the script. They no longer work for the cops; the cops now work for them. It's a process Smith refers to as "state capture," even if the state function that is being captured is illicit. Now, cops and politicians who don/t understand who is charge end up in unmarked graves or starring in horrid torture/murder videos.

The Dopeis a fascinating and sobering tale, full of colorful characters like Dr. Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra, the crusading post-revolutionary physician who argued that marijuana was harmless and whose government office was behind the morphine dispensary plan, and La Nacha, Ignacia Jasso, the dope queen of Ciudad Juarez for decades, along with a veritable rogue's gallery of traffickers, cops, spooks, and politicians, all of whom vie for control of the trade and its incredible profits.

It also reveals some broad findings. First, economics is the driving force of the drug trade, and the economic opportunity it has provided (and continues to provide) to millions of Mexicans means it is not going away, Second, as noted above, authorities have sought to harness income from the drug trade, with the result that they are now harnessed to it. Third, aggressive anti-drug policies are driven more by moral panics, the need for bureaucratic fundraising, and scapegoating, and "are rarely implemented for their effectiveness." Nor do they work, even on their own terms, as our current overdose death numbers shout out. Fourth, the causes of violence originate "not from inside the drug trade, but inside the state," particularly with the churning of protection rackets with the arrival of new political leadership. "The other principal cause of violence has been the war on drugs itself."

There is an extensive mythology around the Mexican drug trade. Benjamin T. Smith has gone along way toward dispelling those myths by providing an accurate, in-depth, well-sourced history of the trade and the domestic and international politics around it. To understand today's fearsome Mexican drug cartels, start here.

Booker & Warren Call on DOJ to Deschedule Marijuana; US & Mexico Meet to Forge New Relations on Crime & Drugs, More... (10/12/21)

California's governor vetoes a "contingency management" drug treatment bill, a pair of progressive senators call on the Justice Department to deschedule marijuana, and more.

Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) send letter to DOJ seeking marijuana descheduling. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Booker, Warren Call on DOJ to Decriminalize Cannabis. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent a letter last Wednesday to Attorney General Merrick Garland urging the Department of Justice (DOJ) to decriminalize cannabis by removing the drug from the Federal controlled substances list. Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA), the Attorney General can remove a substance from the CSA's list, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), based on the finding that it does not have the potential for abuse. Decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level via this descheduling process would allow states to regulate cannabis as they see fit, begin to remedy the harm caused by decades of racial disparities in enforcement of cannabis laws, and facilitate valuable medical research.

"While Congress works to pass comprehensive cannabis reform, you can act now to decriminalize cannabis," wrote Booker and Warren. "We urge the DOJ to initiate the process to decriminalize cannabis. Doing so would be an important first step in the broader tasks of remedying the harmful racial impact of our nation's enforcement of cannabis laws and ensuring that states can effectively regulate the growing cannabis industry, including by assisting small business owners and those most harmed by our historical enforcement of cannabis laws."

Drug Treatment

California Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Have Paid People to Stay Off Drugs. Governor Gavin Newsom (D) has vetoed a bill that would have made California the first state to embrace "contingency management," the drug treatment program in which users are paid money to stay sober, receiving increasing payments for each drug test passed. Such a program has been underway with military veterans for years, with research showing it is an effective way to get people off stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine, for which there are no pharmaceutical treatments available. Newsom had asked the federal government to allow the state to use federal tax dollars to pay for it through Medicaid, but still rejected Senate Bill 110 without explanation.

Foreign Policy

US, Mexico Meet to Restore Cross-Border Cooperation on Drugs, Crime. Leading Biden administration officials including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Attorney General Merrick Garland met with their Mexican counterparts in Mexico City Saturday to try to create a new framework for cooperation on drugs, crime, and border issues. The high-profile meeting comes after months of quiet talks to rebuild relations that grew especially fraught after DEA agents arrested a retired former senior Mexican military officer for alleged links to drug traffickers. That prompted the Mexicans to demand -- and obtain -- his release and to pass a law limiting the involvement of the DEA inside Mexico. The new framework appears to signal a break with Plan Merida, the more than decade-old security agreement under which billions of dollars in US security assistance went to help Mexico fight drug traffickers, but which also saw drug-related killings rise to record levels.

Seattle Psychedelic Decriminalization, OH Towns to Vote on Marijuana Decrim, More... (10/5/21)

The Philippine government tries to look like it is doing something about human rights abuses in its drug war, Bolivian coca grower factions continue to clash, Seattle decriminalizes natural psychedelics and more.

Not only the cultivation and possession but also the sharing of natural psychedelics is decriminalized in Seattle. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Towns Will Vote on Marijuana Decriminalization Ballot Measures Next Month. Activists with NORML Appalachia of Ohio and the Sensible Marijuana Coalition have qualified marijuana decriminalization ballot initiatives for next month's ballot in more than a dozen municipalities, even as efforts to qualify in more communities continue. Voters in Brookside, Dillonvale, Laurelville, Martins Ferry, McArthur, Morristown, Mount Pleasant, Murray City, New Lexington, New Straitsville, Powhatan Point, Rayland, Tiltonsville, and Yorkville will have the chance to vote on the initiatives. Some of the 14 local measures read simply: "Shall [jurisdiction] adopt the Sensible Marihuana Ordinance, which lowers the penalty for misdemeanor marijuana offenses to the lowest penalty allowed by State Law?" Others are longer and more specific, but all aim to further undermine marijuana prohibition in the Buckeye State.

Psychedelics

Seattle Becomes Largest City to Decriminalize Psychedelics. The city council on Monday approved a resolution to decriminalize not just the cultivation and possession but also the noncommercial sharing of a wide range of psychedelic substances, including psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, and non-peyote derived mescaline. The non-inclusion of peyote is a nod to concerns voiced by the indigenous community, where members of the Native American Church consume the cactus as a sacrament. Seattle police already have a policy of not arresting or prosecuting people for drug possession, but this ordinance extends that protection to people growing and sharing psychedelic plants and fungi for open-ended "religious, spiritual, healing, or personal growth practices." The ordinance passed on a unanimous vote.

Law Enforcement

DEA Agent Killed in Drug Sweep of Amtrak Train in Tucson. A DEA agent and a person on an Amtrak train stopped in Tucson were killed in an outburst of gunfire that broke out Monday morning as members of a joint drug task force conducted a drug sweep of the train. Another DEA agent was critically wounded, while a city police officer was also shot and is in stable condition. Two people on board the train reacted to the police presence, with one opening fire. "They were checking for illegal guns, money, drugs," Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus said. "This is something they do, as I said, routinely at pretty much all transit hubs." Magnus said he did not know whether any guns or drugs were found by officers. One person is now in custody.

International

Bolivian Anti-Government Coca Growers Storm La Paz Coca Market. Following more violent clashes with security forces, thousands of anti-government coca growers stormed the Adepcoca market in La Paz on Monday. For more than a week, pro- and anti-government coca grower factions have clashed over control of the market, through which 90 percent of the country's legal coca passes, after pro-government coca unions ousted an opposition leader to take control of it. The anti-government faction is centered in the Yungas region, which is the traditional center of Bolivian coca production. Yungas growers have been upset with the ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) Party since 2017, when then-President Evo Morales ended the Yungas monopoly on coca growing by legalizing coca production in his region of Cochabamba.

In Bid to Blunt International Criminal Court Investigation, Philippines Says 154 Police Could Be Liable for Drug War Conduct. Faced with a formal International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into rampant human rights abuses -- including thousands of killings -- during President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs, Filipino Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced Sunday that 154 police officers could be criminally liable for their conduct in the drug war, including 52 cases of killings. The Philippine government is refusing to cooperate with the ICC probe, arguing that it is capable of policing itself, but the 154 officers who are listed as facing potential criminal liability represent only a tiny fraction of the killings that have taken place, of which the government officially acknowledges more than 6,000. Human rights groups have put the figure north of 30,000.

NE MedMJ Initiatives Get Rolling, Temporary Fentanyl Analog Ban Extended, Ecuador Prison Riot, More... (10/1/21)

The city of Raleigh pays out to people framed and jailed on drug charges, civil rights and drug reform groups criticize the inclusion of fentanyl analog scheduling in a stopgap spending bill, and more.

Afghan opium prices are up as actors worry about a Taliban ban on the poppy. (UNODC)
Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Advocates Launch Signature Drive for Medical Marijuana Ballot Measures. Activists organized as Nebraska Medical Marijuana on Friday rolled out a pair of medical marijuana initiatives, with signature gathering set to begin Saturday. Supporters will have until next July to gather the requisite number of signatures to qualify for the 2022 ballot. The effort comes after the Republican-led legislature has repeatedly blocked medical marijuana and after the state Supreme Court blocked a medical marijuana from the 2020 ballot even though it had met signature requirements. The court held that initiative violated the state's one-topic rule for initiatives. This time, activists have split the proposal into two initiatives, the Medical Cannabis Patient Protection Act, which would protect patients and caregivers from prosecution, and the Medical Cannabis Regulation Act, which would set up a state regulatory system.

Drug Policy

Civil Rights, Drug Reform Groups Criticize Stopgap Spending Bill for Extending Schedule I Status for Fentanyl-Related Drugs. Civil rights activists and drug policy experts said Friday they were disappointed that the stopgap spending bill passed by Congress Thursday extends the temporary classification of fentanyl-related substances as Schedule I drugs. The measure would "disproportionately impact people of color through harsher criminal penalties and expand mass incarcertation," the groups said, calling for health-centered policies including expanded access to harm reduction and treatment.

Law Enforcement

Raleigh, North Carolina, to Pay $2 Million to People Framed on Drug Charges. The city of Raleigh has agreed to pay 15 plaintiffs $2 million to settle a federal civil right lawsuit that charged officers worked with a confidential informant to frame people on drug trafficking charges. The civil rights lawsuit filed in April sought policy changes and actual and punitive damages from the city of Raleigh, Officer Omar Abdullah and seven of his colleagues, including a sergeant and a lieutenant. The suit was filed by a dozen people who were arrested after the snitch claimed they sold him heroin, and in one case, marijuana, but the drug turned out to be fake. Lawyers for the plaintiffs warned the city that more is coming: "We have informed the City of at least six additional potential plaintiffs who were harmed by this scheme. These individuals are all women and children who were detained or had guns pointed at them during SWAT style raids of their homes," they wrote. "We intend to seek justice for them as well." The original 15 plaintiffs spent a collective 2 ½ years in jail before charges were dismissed.

International

Afghan Opium Prices Rise in Wake of Taliban Take Over, Fears of Ban. The price of opium has tripled in Afghanistan took over last month and announced a possible ban. Farmers at markets in Kandahar province reported the price surge. Buyers are anticipating an opium shortage because of the possible ban "and that's driven up prices," one farmer said. The Taliban banned opium in 2000 in a bid to cultivate Western support, but every year since then, Afghanistan has been the world's leading opium producer. That Kandahar farmer doesn't think the Taliban "can eradicate all opium in Afghanistan," but is enjoying the high prices.

Mexican Drug Cartel Struggle Leads to Deadly Ecuador Prison Riot. At least 116 inmates have been killed in the Litoral prison in Guayaquil in rioting this week linked to a bitter struggle between rival Mexican cartels over cocaine trafficking routes through the country. The prison gangs doing battle with each other with machetes, guns, and grenades inside the penitentiary are linked to either the Sinaloa or the Jalisco New Generation cartels. This is the third major outbreak of prison violence in the country this year, with 79 killed in gang fights in three prisons in February and 22 more killed at Litoral in July.

House Judiciary Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill, SD Lawmakers Move to Ban MedMJ Home Grows, More... (9/30/21)

Mississippi's Republican governor says a special session to deal with medical marijuana is coming soon, a South Dakota medical marijuana subcommittee votes to undo the patient home grow provision approved by voters, and more.

Marijuana legalization is advancing in the Congress. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Committee Approves Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill. The House Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to approve the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3884), a bill that would federally legalize cannabis. The bill is sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and is a comprehensive federal cannabis reform bill that contains strong social equity provisions with an emphasis on restorative justice for communities most impacted by cannabis prohibition. The MORE Act passed the House last year but died in the Senate. This year, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), along with Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Cory Booker (D-NY) are working on their own legalization bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act but have yet to release a final text.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Governor Says Medical Marijuana Bill Needs Changes Before He Will Call a Special Session. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) said Wednesday he will call a special session to get a medical marijuana bill passed "sooner rather than later," but said there are still details to be worked out and that a special session was likely weeks away instead of this week as lawmakers had requested. "There is no update on exactly when, but I do anticipate we are going to have one sooner rather than later," Reeves said. "We are a long way towards getting a final agreement, but not all the way there yet," Reeves said. "At this point it's just a matter of working out the final details... things such as funding, an appropriation bill, what that would look like." The legislature is moving to implement the will of state voters as expressed in the 2020 elections, where a medical marijuana initiative was approved only to be overturned by the state Supreme Court on technical grounds.

South Dakota Legislative Medical Marijuana Subcommittee Votes to Deny Will of Voters, Ban Patient Home Grows. The legislature's medical marijuana subcommittee voted 6-4 Wednesday to make home marijuana cultivation by patients illegal. The voter approved medical marijuana initiative passed last November explicitly allowed for patient home cultivation, but lawmakers on the panel voted to overturn that part of the initiative in an effort initiated by state Rep. Fred Deutsch (R-Brookings). The subcommittee's vote is not final; its recommendations will now be taken up by the legislature's marijuana study committee.

International

Bolivia Coca Grower Clashes Extend into Second Week. Coca growers fighting over control of the La Paz market of the Departmental Association of Coca Producers (Adepcoca) clashed among themselves and with police in the eight straight day of protests Wednesday. Even though neighborhood residents asked for "restraint," police once again used tear gas against demonstrators, who had set up explosives in the area. Residents have also marched with white flags to demand an end to the violence and formed barricades to block the entry of police and coca growers through various streets. The government has attempted to mediate the conflict, but does not see a solution to the conflict in the short term.

House Passes Bill to End Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, Bolivia Coca Growers Clash, More... (9/29/21)

Grand Rapids, Michigan, endorses a symbolic psychedelic reform, the House votes to end the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more. 

A crack cocaine user. Harsh federal crack penalties fell disproportionately on the Black community. (Creative Commons)
Psychedelics

Grand Rapids is Latest Michigan City to Endorse Psychedelic Decriminalization. The Grand Rapids City Commission on Tuesday approved a resolution calling for the decriminalization of natural psychedelics, such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. The resolution says "those seeking to improve their health and well-being through the use of Entheogenic Plants and Fungi should have the freedom to explore these healing methods without risk of arrest and prosecution." It passed 5-2, but activists were disappointed because the resolution merely expresses support for future reforms and does not make psychedelics a lowest law enforcement priority. Still, Grand Rapids joins a growing number of Michigan communities that have endorsed psychedelic reform, including Ann Arbor, and Detroit voters will have a chance to endorse psychedelic decriminalization with a measure that will appear on the ballot in November.

Sentencing Policy

House Passes Bill to End Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. The House on Tuesday passed HR 1693,  the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law Act of 2021or the EQUAL Act of 2021. The bill seeks to redress one of the gravest injustices of the drug war by eliminating the federal sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses. The vote was 361-66, with all 66 "no" votes coming from Republicans. Under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, signed into law by Ronald Reagan, people caught with as little as five grams of crack faced a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, while people would have to be caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine to garner the same sentence. The overwhelming majority of people federally prosecuted under the crack provision were Black, even though crack use was enjoyed by people from all races. The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reduced that disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, and a 2018 criminal justice reform bill signed by Donald Trump allowed people convicted before the 2010 law was passed to seek resentencing. The bill now goes to the Senate, where the Senate version, S. 79, will need the support of at least 10 Republicans to pass. It currently has three GOP cosponsors: Sens. Rand Paul (KY), Rob Portman (OH), and Thomas Tillis (NC). Look for our feature article on the bill later today.

International

Bolivia Coca Growers Conflict Turns Violent. A power struggle among coca grower factions in La Paz has seen street fighting, volleys of tear gas and slingshot, clashes among grower factions and between growers and police. On Monday, a building near the central coca market in La Paz, control over which is being contested by the factions, went up in flames amid the clashes. Last week, several police vehicles were burned during similar protests. One grower faction, led by Arnold Alanes, the head of the coca management agency Adepcoca, is aligned with the governing Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) Party, while the other faction, led by government critic Armin Lluta, says MAS and former President Evo Morales are trying to seize greater control of the trade. But Alanes says he is being attacked because he is trying to eradicate corruption.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, Vaping, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School