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Chronicle AM: Trump Looking at Drug Dealer Death Penalty, Vancouver Wants Drug Decrim, More... (3/12/18)

Sessions admits feds can't effectively enforce pot laws, Trump admin studies the death penalty for some drug dealers, Mexico murders hit a high, Vancouver wants drug decriminalization, and more.

Trump isn't just talking about the death penalty; his administration is working on it. (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Sessions Concedes Feds Lack Resources to Prosecute Small-Time Pot Busts. The attorney general admitted the obvious Saturday, saying that federal prosecutors will not take on small-time marijuana cases because federal law enforcement lacks the resources to take on "routine cases." In response to a question, Sessions said, "I am not going to tell Colorado or California or someone else that possession of marijuana is legal under United States law," but then added that federal prosecutors "haven’t been working small marijuana cases before, they are not going to be working them now."

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Medical Marijuana Initiative Has 200,000 Signatures, Still Wants More. It's looking increasingly likely that Shoe Me state residents will have a chance to vote to legalize medical marijuana in November. New Approach Missouri, the group behind a medical marijuana initiative, announced Sunday it had collected more than 200,000 raw signatures. It only needs 160,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot, but because some raw signatures may be disqualified, the group said its goal is 300,000 raw signatures.

Utah Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Bills, But Initiative Campaign Will Continue. Faced with an ongoing initiative campaign, legislators in Salt Lake passed four medical marijuana bills this session, but none of them actually sets up a workable, dispensary-based program, and the Utah Patients Coalition, the folks behind the initiative campaign say they are tired of lawmakers beating around the bush and will continue to gather signatures so the issue will appear on the November ballot. Of the bills passed, one would allow terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana, one would ease medical marijuana research, one seeks a federal waiver for doctors to recommend CBD, and one modifies a task force charged with reviewing existing medical marijuana research.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Dies. The legislature adjourned Saturday without taking final action on a medical marijuana expansion bill, just days after State Treasurer John Perdue warned that because of federal pot prohibition the state could not support the program with its financial services. House Bill 4345 would have increased the number of growers, processors, and dispensaries that can operate in the state.

Drug Policy

Trump Administration Studying Death Penalty for Drug Dealers. It's not just off-the-cuff rhetoric: The administration is studying a new policy that could allow federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for some drug dealers, particularly those dealing in fentanyl and its analogs. The Department of Justice and the Domestic Policy Council are studying potential changes, and a final announcement could come within weeks.

New Report Finds War on Drugs a Key Factor in Colorado’s Growing Prison Population — and Its Prison Budget, Which Is Nearing $1 Billion for First Time in History. The war on drugs is a key factor in Colorado's growing prison population and, in turn, its growing budget, according to a report released Monday by the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition (CCJRC). It also appears to be having a disproportionate impact on women. The analysis of state court and prison data found there were more than twice as many drug felony case filings in Colorado in 2017 (15,323) compared to 2012 (7,424), and the vast majority of drug felony filings (75%) are for simple possession. As a result, there are more people being sentenced to prison for drug possession, especially women. The report, which also includes a breakdown for each of Colorado's 22 judicial districts, shows that five districts saw drug felony filings increase by 165% or more in 2017 compared to 2012.


European Union Calls on Member States to Find Alternatives to Punishing Drug Users. The EU's Justice and Home Affairs Council last week adopted recommendations on alternatives to coercive sanctions for drug users. These recommendations were approved within the frame of the EU Action Plan on Drugs 2017-2020 which requests member states to provide alternatives to coercive sanctions for drug using offenders "where appropriate, and in accordance with their legal frameworks."

Dutch Will Decide on Marijuana Cultivation Pilot Programs By Summer. Justice Minister Ferninand Grapperhaus told parliament last Friday that ministers will publish their proposals for the planned experiment with legal marijuana cultivation this summer. The move is an effort to address the country's "back door problem," where possession and legal sales are allowed, but there is no legal provision for supply.

Vancouver Calls for Canada to Decriminalize Drugs. The city is officially calling on the Liberal federal government to immediately decriminalize the personal possession of all drugs. "What we've learned from countries, for example like Portugal, is that when you decriminalize then people are feeling like they're actually safe enough to ask for treatment," said managing director of social policy, Mary Clare Zak. "People who are dying are more likely to be indoors and struggle with accessing help or assistance because of their illicit drug use." The move comes as the city saw 33 overdose deaths in January, the highest number since last May.

Jamaica's First Marijuana Retailer is Now Open for Business. Kaya Farms in St. Ann Parish opened its doors last Saturday. It's a wellness-focused, tourist-friendly café, lounge, juice bar, and "herb house" on the island nation's north coast. Bob Marley must be smiling.

Mexico Saw More Than 29,000 Murders Last Year. The Interior Ministry has reported that there were 29,168 murders in the country last year, more than at the previous peak of prohibition-related violence in 2011 and 2012. While fighting among cartels and between various cartels and law enforcement and the military accounts for the vast majority of these killings, it's not the only cause. Still, the homicide rate is now the highest in years.

Chronicle AM: HHS Sec Says "No Such Thing" as MedMJ, OR Opioid Treatment Bill, More... (3/5/18)

Seattle will join San Francisco is expunging past petty pot possession convictions, the HHS secretary denies the reality of medical marijuana, the DOJ wants to toughen up a bill aimed at opioid makers and distributors, Colombia and the US reach an agreement on drug policy goals, and more.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar, formerly of Eli Lilly, says "there is no such thing as medical marijuana." (Wikipedia)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Pot Legalization Hearing Today. The Assembly Oversight Committee is holding a hearing today on marijuana legalization, the first step in getting a legalization bill through the legislature. Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D) has filed Senate Bill 380, which would legalize the possession of small amounts of pot and allow for taxed and regulated sales, but other bills could also be filed, including bills that only decriminalize—not legalize—marijuana.

Oregon Senate Approves Bill to Fund Enforcement Against Black Market Operations. The state Senate voted last Friday to approve Senate Bill 1544, which would create the Illegal Marijuana Market Enforcement Grant Program within the Criminal Justice Commission. The program would offer $1.5 million a year over six years to help local governments with costs incurred in going after illicit cultivation and production. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Seattle to Expunge Misdemeanor Pot Possession Convictions. Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes announced last Thursday that they will clear the records of people who were prosecuted for misdemeanor pot possession prior to the legalization of marijuana in 2012. The city estimates some 500 to 600 convictions dating back to 1977 will be overturned.

Medical Marijuana

Health and Human Services Secretary Says "No Such Thing" as Medical Marijuana. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar refused last Friday to acknowledge that marijuana has any medicinal uses. In response to a question at an Ohio press conference about opioids about the role of medical marijuana in treating them, he replied: "There really is no such thing as medical marijuana," he said at an Ohio press conference on opioids. "There is no FDA-approved use of marijuana, a botanical plant. I just want to be very clear about that."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Justice Department Wants Congress to Stiffen Opioid Legislation. In a letter last Wednesday to the head of a congressional committee investigating the opioid industry, Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd urged Congress to rewrite a bill passed with the pharmaceutical industry's blessing that the DEA says undermines its efforts to go after companies suspected of violating the drug laws. The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act was pushed through Congress in 2016 by a small group of lawmakers backed by drug companies, including then Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), who was forced to back away from a nomination to head the drug czar's office after a CBS News investigative report on the law last fall.

Oregon House Approves Opioid Treatment Access Bill. The House last Thursday approved House Bill 4143, which "requires Director of Department of Consumer and Business Services to study barriers to effective treatment for and recovery from substance use disorders, including addictions to opioids and opiates, and to report and make recommendations to Legislative Assembly not later than June 30, 2018." The bill now goes to Gov. Kate Brown (D) for her signature.

Pennsylvania Governor Says State Will Ease Access to Opioid Treatment Medications. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) announced last Thursday that the state is ending a policy that slowed treatment for people addicted to opioids. The state's Medicaid program will no longer require doctors to get prior approval when prescribing drugs such as Suboxone and Vivitrol, used in what's known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT). "MATs work — they’re part of an overall strategy that can help all kinds of people," Wolf said. "This step that I’m announcing today is going to increase access to this lifesaving treatment for those who suffer from substance use disorder across the commonwealth."

Foreign Policy

US, Colombia Agree to Expand Anti-Drug Cooperation, Set Goal of 50% Coca Reduction. The United States and Colombia reached an agreement last Friday on cooperation in their joint anti-drug campaigns. The two countries pledged to expand their anti-drug cooperation, which has as an expressed goal or reducing the country's coca and cocaine production by 50% by 2023.

Chronicle AM: Non-Binding Legalization Votes, Iran Expecting Fewer Drug Executions, More... (3/1/18)

A non-binding referendum on marijuana legalization has been approved by the Illinois Senate, another such referendum bill has just been filed in Rhode Island, the Iranian justice minister said drug executions will drop dramatically, the president nominates members to the Sentencing Commission, and more.

Iran's new drug policies should result in a "dramatic" decrease in drug executions like this.
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Report Fails to Win Task Force Approval for Release. A final report on issues surrounding marijuana legalization failed to win approval from a legislative and state official task force, but one Democratic legislator said it will be made available to the General Assembly anyway. Only 12 of the 25 task force members voted to release the report; all state cabinet representatives either were absent or abstained. Gov. John Carney (D) has said he opposes legalization.

Illinois Senate Approves Non-Binding Legalization Referendum. The Senate voted 37-13 Thursday to put a non-binding marijuana legalization referendum on the November ballot. The measure, Senate Bill 2275, now heads to the House. The question voters would be asked is: "Shall the State of Illinois legalize the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products for recreational use by adults 21 and older subject to state regulation, taxation and local ordinance?"

Rhode Island Bill to Put Non-Binding Legalization Referendum Before Voters Filed. Rep. Scott Slater (D-District 10) filed a bill Wednesday that would put the question of legalizing marijuana before the voters in a non-binding referendum. House Bill 7883 would ask voters: "Do you support the legalization of possession and use of marijuana by persons who are at least 21 years of age, subject to regulation and taxation that is similar to the regulation and taxation of tobacco and alcohol?"

Baton Rouge Moves Toward Decriminalization. The East Baton Rouge Metro Council voted Wednesday night approved a measure that would direct police to only issue summonses to people caught with less than 14 grams of weed, with the only punishment being a $40 fine, with the fine going up $20 for each subsequent offense. Under current law, those folks are looking at six months in jail. If signed by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, the new law goes into effect in 30 days.


Trump Nominates Sentencing Commission Members. On Thursday, President Trump announced he intended to nominate five people to the US Sentencing Commission, which sets guidelines for federal sentencing. He named Judge William Pryor of Arkansas, who already sits on the commission, to be Acting Chairman. Of the four other nominees, three are sitting federal judges and one is a Georgetown University law professor who has raised eyebrows for his support of mandatory minimums.

Rhode Island Bill Would Impose Life Sentences for Drug Overdose Deaths House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has filed House Bill 7715, which could create life sentences for people convicted of providing drugs to persons who suffered a fatal overdose. Under current state law, anyone convicted of providing drugs to a minor who overdoses an dies can get a life sentence; this bill would expand that to include life sentences no matter the age of the victim. "Anyone who is preying on individuals with an addiction, regardless of age, should be held responsible. This is not a crime restricted to the sale of drugs to a minor," Mattiello said.>

Washington State County Will Stop Prosecuting Small-Time Drug Possessors. Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe has announced that his office will no longer prosecute people caught with less than two grams of any illicit drug. He said the prosecutions are time-consuming, he doesn't have enough prosecutors to keep up, and the prosecutions do little to stop drug use. Snohomish County lies between Seattle and the Canadian border.


Iran Justice Minister Expects Fewer Executions Under Revised Drug Law. Justice Minister Ali Reza Avai told the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday that he expects to see drug executions shrink after reforms in the Islamic Republic's criminal code aiming to be more efficient and safeguard the rights of the accused were adopted. "In this context the counter-narcotics law was amended. As a result, executions related to drug crimes will decrease remarkably," he predicted. Iran has been one of the world's leading drug executioners.

Mexican Police Accused of Death Squad Tactics Against Drug Suspects. Prosecutors in the state of Veracruz have charged 19 police officers, including some commanders of a special anti-drug unit, of kidnapping, torturing, and murdering at least 15 people in the area. Police in marked cars would pick up suspects, but not record the arrests, instead turning them over to specialized interrogation and torture squads working at the policy academy. They were later killed and their bodies disposed of. The charges are an important step in addressing festering impunity for official crimes in the drug war. "This is the first time they have charged people in significant numbers and of significant rank and demonstrated that there was an organized, structured governmental apparatus that had an agreed-on, systemic method to carry out a policy of disappearing people," said Juan Carlos Gutiérrez, a lawyer who specializes in human rights cases. The groundbreaking thing is that prosecutors built a case by demonstrating there was a whole governmental structure that was designed to disappear people," he told the Guardian.

Chronicle AM: Joint-Smoking IL US House Candidate, DEA Link to Mexico Murders, More... (2/28/18)

An Illinois Democratic congressional candidate goes bold on weed, New Jersey legalization efforts face an uphill battle in the Senate, congressional Democrats call for investigations into DEA-linked drug war deaths in Mexico, and more.

Illinois Democratic congressional contender Benjamin Thomas Wolf lights up in new ad. (
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Democratic Congressional Candidate Smokes Joint in Ad. Former FBI national security official and current Logan Park restaurateur Benjamin Thomas Wolfe is running for the Democratic nomination for Illinois' 5th congressional district -- and he's putting marijuana legalization front and center. A photograph Wolf released Monday features him sitting in front of an American flag painting. Above him, smoke rises from the joint he presumably just puffed on. "As a cannabis user, I think it's important we get out front and talk about it," Wolf said. "We realize that cannabis can bring billions of dollars to the state, it's medicine for millions of people around the country, it changes criminal justice reform and personally I think it's a wonderful recreational substance as well."

New Hampshire Poll Finds Strong Support for Legalization -- Without Sales. A new Granite State poll has across the board support for a bill that would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not sale or taxation of it. The poll had support at 56% overall, with 61% of Democrats, 56% of independents, and 49% of Republicans behind it.

New Jersey Senate Survey Suggests Hard Road Ahead for Legalization. A survey of all 40 state Senate members by NJ Cannabis Insider finds there is some work to be done before the body is prepared to pass a legalization bill. The survey found only five senators said they would vote yes, 20 would vote no, and 15 were either undecided or did not reply. A legalization bill, Senate Bill 830, awaits a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee narrowly approved a medical marijuana bill Tuesday. The committee voted 4-3 in favor of House Bill 1749, with the key vote provided by House Speaker Beth Harwell.

Harm Reduction

New York Advocates Call on Mayor de Blasio to Release Study on Safe Injection Sites. Advocates led by the Drug Policy Alliance, Housing Works, and Camelot gathered at city hall Tuesday to demand that Mayor Bill de Blasio release a $100,000 study on the feasibility of safe injection sites. De Blasio said last month he would release the results "relatively soon." On Tuesday, the Health Department again said "soon." The city council authorized safe injection sites two years ago.

Law Enforcement

Congressional Democrats Want Investigation into Mexico Murders Linked to DEA Activities. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have sent a letter to the Justice and State departments asking that their inspectors general investigate DEA-led operations in Mexico that triggered violent retaliation from drug cartels, leading to the death or disappearance of dozens or even hundreds of people. The Democrats cited a 2010 cartel attack in Monterrey and a 2011 massacre by Zetas in the state of Coahuila. In both cases, the killings were linked to DEA surveillance activities, and in both cases, the DEA downplayed its involvement and didn't help investigate the killings.

(This article was prepared by's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Trump Wants to Execute Drug Dealers, Brazil Drug War Targets Rio Slums, More... (2/26/18)

The president makes downright scary remarks about killing drug dealers, the Brazilian army and cops roar into Rio's favelas, California's Democratic Party reaffirms its support of legal pot, and more.

Iranian drug executions -- Trump's solution to the drug problem? (
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Bill Snuffed Out. A bill that would have legalized marijuana in the state was snuffed out last week by House Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Chairman Eddie Farnswoth (R-Chandler). The measure, House Concurrent Resolution 2037 would, if passed, have put the issue directly before voters in a referendum.

California Democrats Reaffirm Commitment to Legal Marijuana, Diss Anti-Pot Feinstein. Meeting over the weekend, the California Democratic Party approved numerous platform planks in support of marijuana legalization, including one that says they "support the ongoing legalization, regulation, and taxation of cannabis in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol, while prioritizing the health, education, and safety of California's communities and the country over revenue or profits." In other action, the state party failed to provide its endorsement to Sen. Diane Feinstein, who has lagged far behind other state Democrats when it comes to marijuana policy.

Maine Legalization Implementation Bill Kills Off Social Clubs, Tax Revenue Sharing. The Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee took a final vote on the overhauled implementation bill Friday. The final version of the bill contains no provision for marijuana social clubs, nor does it allow for the sharing of marijuana tax revenues to the state with localities that allow marijuana businesses. The excise tax on wholesale marijuana is set at 21.5%, or about $335 a pound at current prices. The measure will go before the whole legislature in a few weeks.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Could Be Delayed to 2019 or 2020. At a press conference last Friday, Cincinnati businessman Jimmy Gould, the man behind the failed 2015 "monopoly marijuana" legalization initiative, said his plans to get another initiative on the ballot may not come to fruition this year. He said language for the proposed measure was not yet set and the initiative may not appear on the ballot until 2019 or 2020. The deadline to hand in enough vote signatures to qualify for the ballot this year is July 4.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The House Health and Welfare Committee has approved House Bill 577, which would legalize the possession of low-THC CBD oil for medical use. The bill advanced despite the opposition of law enforcement and the Idaho Office of Drug Policy. It now heads for a House floor vote.


Trump Says He Wants to Execute All Drug Dealers. President Trump has been making some disturbing authoritarian and blood-thirsty private remarks about what he'd like to do to drug dealers, according to a new report from Axios. Worse yet, his dark fulminations may foreshadow some repressive policy prescriptions not too far down the road. Trump seems obsessed with fighting drugs, according to the Axios report. It cites five sources who've spoken with Trump on the subject who say "he often leaps into a passionate speech about how drug dealers are as bad as serial killers and should all get the death penalty" and that softer approaches to drug reform will never work.

Arizona Bill Would Impose Mandatory Minimums on First Time Heroin, Fentanyl Sellers. A bill that would create five-year mandatory minimum sentences for first-time heroin and fentanyl sellers passed the House last week. House Bill 2241 now heads to the Senate.


Brazilian Army, Rio de Janeiro Cops in Massive Anti-Drug Operation. The army and the state police have launched a massive anti-drug operation in several favelas (shantytowns) on the west side of the city, military spokesmen announced last Friday. More than 3,000 soldiers and police are taking part in the operations in Vila Alianca, Coreija, and Vila Kennedy. In the latter, there have been at least 13 shoot outs between drug traffickers and police since January. The operation started just days after an army sergeant and police commander were killed there last week.

Colombia Coca-Country Clashes Are Creating Refugee Flows. Three-way fighting between rightist paramilitaries, leftist ELN guerrillas, and the Colombian military in the coca-rich Bajo Cauca region some 80 miles north of Medellin has displaced some 1,500 people already, with the prospect of more to come. "The clashes between the armed groups continue to cause fear amongst the indigenous communities and rural populations," said the Norwegian Refugee Council, which is assisting victims of the violence.

Manila Demonstrators Protest Philippines Drug War. Thousands of marchers organized by Catholic groups took to the streets of Manila Saturday in a "walk for life" to protest the thousands of killings that have occurred under President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody crackdown on drugs. "We will not tire in walking for life even if the path ahead is winding and soaked in blood," Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.

Philippines Police Kill Ten in Night of Bloody Drug Raids. In the single bloodiest night of the country's drug war since police resumed participation in December, police said they killed 10 suspected drug dealers and arrested 63 more last Wednesday night. The operations took place in Bulacan, north of Manila, the capital. Police said the suspects were killed in eight separate towns during 45 "buy-bust" incidents.

Chronicle AM: Alcohol, Drug, Suicide Deaths at Record High, Colombia Coca Violence, More... (2/23/18)

An MJ decrim bill moves in Alabama, an asset forfeiture reform bill moves in Kansas, a new report tallies the toll of rising drug, alcohol, and suicide deaths, another report warns of problems in Colombia, and more.

There's trouble in the coca fields of Colombia (
Marijuana Policy

Alabama Senate Committee Advances Marijuana Decriminalization Bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to approve Senate Bill 251, which would decriminalize the possession of less than two ounces of marijuana. But at the same time, the House Judiciary Committee defeated a similar bill, House Bill 272. The Senate bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Bill to Block Awarding of Medical Marijuana Business Licenses Filed. State Sen. Bill Coley (R-West Chester) has filed a bill to temporarily halt the issuance of licenses for growers, processors, and testers to allow fixes with what he has identified as problems with the system. The move comes as lawsuits by entities not awarded licenses are underway and as others have criticized aspects of the selection process. Coley's bill is not yet available on the legislative web site.

Asset Forfeiture

Kansas House Approves Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The House on Thursday gave final approval to House Bill 2459, which doesn't end civil asset forfeiture, but would impose stricter reporting requirements on all law enforcement agencies. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Public Health

Report: Alcohol, Drug, Suicide Deaths Hit New High. A new report shows that 2016 saw the highest-ever number of US deaths tied to alcohol, drugs and suicide. Deaths attributed to the three causes rose by 11%, according to the "Pain in the Nation" report, to total a record-high 142,000. Alcohol related deaths have increased at a rate of 40% over the past decade, while deaths from synthetic opioids roughly doubled between 2015 and 2016, to nearly 20,000.


Criminal Violence Threatens Colombia Drug Crop Substitution: Report. A new report from Colombian Ideas for Peace Foundation warns that homicide rates have jumped substantially in municipalities that are taking part in coca eradication program. The killings highlight the fragility of the government's eradication plan in the face of intensified violence among the country's fragmented criminal groups.

Time Runs Out on British Parliament Debate on Marijuana Reform. Labor MP Paul Flynn's bill on marijuana law reform, which was set for parliamentary debate Friday, didn't get it. Instead, his colleagues on both sides of the aisle took so long debating other private members' bills that they ran out of time to take up the issue. An astounded Flynn accused MPs of filibustering, sparking an angry retort from the speaker's chair. Flynn was pushing especially for a way to make medical marijuana available in the country.

Chronicle AM: DC Demo on Philippine Drug War Next Week, BC Drug Decrim March, More... (2/21/18)

Ohio's medical marijuana program may have just hit a bump, hemp could be coming to Utah, drug users march for decriminalization in Vancouver, demonstrators will gather in DC next week to protest the Philippines drug war, and more.

Demonstrators call for an end to the Philippines drug war and the freedom of of one of Duterte's leading critics. (Facebook)
Medical Marijuana

Ohio Lawsuit Challenges Grow License Process. A lawsuit filed Tuesday by would-be medical marijuana grow operators who weren't picked for the large grow licenses issued by the state Department of Commerce threatens to disrupt the rollout of the program. The growers are suing the department, the officials involved in grading application, and all the businesses that won licenses. They charge they weren't treated fairly in the licensing process.

West Virginia Regulators Will Recommend Allowing Smokeable Medical Marijuana. The state medical marijuana board announced Tuesday that it plans to recommend to lawmakers that some patients be allowed to use marijuana in a smokeable form. The board will also recommend removing or increasing the cap on the number of growers, processors, and dispensaries in the state and allowing one company to take on more than one of those roles.

Industrial Hemp

Utah Hemp Bill Advances. A bill that would allow the production and sale of hemp products in the state is headed for a House floor vote after being approved Tuesday by the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee. House Bill 302 authorizes the state Department of Agriculture and Food to provide a hemp-growing license to "a person who wishes to participate in an industrial hemp research pilot program," according to a summary attached to the bill. The bill also allows those who would like to produce and sell hemp-based products "to distribute the registered hemp product in the state" if they obtain the license from the state to do so.

Asset Forfeiture

Wisconsin Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Passes Senate. The state Senate has approved Senate Bill 61, which does not end civil asset forfeiture, but puts limits on how long police can hold property before someone is charged and reduce the amount of money police can keep when they sell seized property. The measure now heads for the Assembly.

Foreign Policy

Trump Budget Would Cut Aid to Colombia in Half. The White House's proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget would slash foreign assistance to Columbia by nearly half, even as the country struggles to implement a peace deal with leftist FARC rebels and address a record-breaking level of coca planting and cocaine production. The budget would reduce funds "to implement sustainable peace" in the "most affected zones" of the country's drug prohibition-fueled armed conflict from $180 million to $100 million. The budget also seeks a reduction of one-third in funding for the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement program. Colombia is a major recipient of aid under that program, too. The Washington Office on Latin America said the budget proposal would "squander an historic opportunity to help Colombia avoid a resurgence of criminal violence, while Insight Crime noted that "large cuts in aid could prove detrimental to efforts aimed at improving security conditions in… crime-wracked countries" like Colombia.


Vancouver Drug Users March to Demand Drug Decriminalization. Several hundred drug users and supporters took to the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside to demand that the federal government change its drug policies and embrace drug decriminalization. The protest, part of a national day of action across the country, was organized by the Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs (CAPUD), the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and other groups. Decriminalization would "allow people to use drugs more safely without fear of arrest and detention," said Caitlin Shane, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society who specializes in drug policy.

DC Demonstration Against Philippine Drug War Killings Set for Next Wednesday. On Wednesday, February 28th, please join Filipino Americans, drug policy reformers and other human rights defenders to call for an end to extrajudicial killings and for Senator de Lima to be freed. We will rally from noon to 1:00pm in front of the Philippines Embassy, 1600 Massachusetts Avenue NW in Washington, DC. Among other things, the event will feature a street theater performance in which attendees will symbolically free a Senator de Lima figure from a realistic mobile model of a prison cell. Please email David Borden at [email protected] to get involved in preparations for this demonstration or for other information, and please spread the word!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Mansfield demolishes that claim:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

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

Drug Testing

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

Harm Reduction

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


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

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

Chronicle AM: CA MJ Tax Bonanza, Mexico Legal MJ for Tourists, Corruption and Violence in Central American Drug Trade, More... (1/26/18)

California looks set to make big bucks from legalizing weed, Mexico's tourism minister suggests legalizing it at some of the country's biggest tourist beach resorts, the new Honduran national police chief has some explaining to do, and more.

Legal green will make the Golden State a bit more golden. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

California Will Reap $643 Million in Pot Taxes Next Year, Governor Estimates. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) estimated Wednesday that the state will take in $643 million in marijuana taxes in Fiscal Year 2018-2019, more than 10 times the cost of issuing licenses and enforcing new rules. The estimate comes in the governor's budget proposal for the next fiscal year. This year, with only five months remaining in the fiscal year and with sales just getting underway, the budget estimates $175 million in pot taxes. The high tax proceeds estimates are leading to calls from some consumers and the California Growers Association to lower the taxes.

Virginia House Panel Kills Decriminalization Bill. A subcommittee of the House Committee on Courts and Justice voted 7-1 Wednesday to kill a decriminalization bill, House Bill 1063. A bill that would lessen penalties for a first marijuana offense remains alive.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho CBD Bill Filed. Conservative Republican state Rep. Dorothy Moon has filed a bill that would allow the CBD cannabis oil for medicinal purposes. House Bill 410 would limit cannabis oils to less than 0.3% THC. It is now before the House Health and Welfare Committee.


Mexico Tourism Minister Calls for Legal Marijuana at Major Beach Resorts. Tourism Minister Enrique de la Madrid said Thursday that Mexico should legalize marijuana at two of the country's major beach resorts, Cancun and Los Cabos, in a bid to reduce criminal violence. "It's absurd we're not taking this step as a country," he told reporters in Mexico City. "Even if there's work to be done in the whole of the country, I'd like to see that it might be done in Baja California and Quintana Roo," the states where Los Cabos and Cancun, respectively, are located.

Mexican Military on Patrol in Reynosa in Wake of Cartel Violence. The military is out in force, on the ground and in the air, in the Mexican border city of Reynosa after days of gun battles between rival factions of the Gulf Cartel left at least a dozen people dead. The military patrols will continue indefinitely, the governor of Tamaulipas state said.

Honduras National Police Chief Reportedly Helped Cartel Rescue Cocaine Load. The new chief of National Police, Jose David Aguilar Moran, promised to continue reforming an agency stained by corruption and complicity with drug cartels, but the Associated Press reports that he helped a cartel leader successfully retrieve and deliver nearly a ton of cocaine after lower-ranking police stopped the truck it which it was being transported. That report is based on confidential Honduran government security reports obtained by the AP.

Georgian Protesters Demand Drug Law Reforms. Hundreds of people gathered outside the parliament building in Tbilisi Thursday to reiterate their demand that the country liberalize its drug laws. The rally was sparked by the Monday sentencing of actor Giorgi Giorganashvili to eight years in prison on drug charges. The protestors representing 20 civil society groups said the sentence "once again legitimized the inhumane and repressive drug policy in Georgia." The action comes as the parliament is considering a bill that would decriminalize the use and possession of small amounts of drugs.

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