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Chronicle AM: FL MedMJ Moves, CA Safe Injection Site Bill Filed, More... (2/5/19)

Florida courts and the legislature are both dealing with the legislature's previous efforts to mess with the voter-approved medical marijuana amendment, a pot legalization bill gets a hearing in New Hampshire, a Virginia trooper and a drug suspect are killed in the drug war, and more.

There's a battle over smokable medical marijuana in Florida. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Guam's Governor Supports Marijuana Legalization Bill. Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has come out in support of a marijuana legalization measure, Bill 32-35, the Guam Cannabis Industry Act of 2019. Her move came after meeting with bill author Sen. Clynt Ridgell last Friday, but her support is not surprising; she’s been in favor of legalization for some time. The bill would allow adults to possess and grow their own marijuana, as well as create a system of legal marijuana commerce.

New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets Hearing. A bill to legalize marijuana, HB 481, got a public hearing Tuesday. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton), is opposed by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Bill to End Ban on Smoking Gets Twisted. A bill from Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) that would end the ban on smoking medical marijuana, SB 182, was so altered in the Senate Health Policy Committee Monday that Brandes now says it would be worse for patients that doing nothing at all. At the behest of Chairwoman Gayle Harrell (R-Port St. Lucie), the committee voted to require that patients seeking to use smokable marijuana get a second opinion from a physician and to mandate that doctors would only be able to order smokable marijuana if it were the only route of administration that would benefit the patient. Brandes says the bill “will have to be significantly amended” before he would send it to the Senate floor for a full vote.

Florida Judge Again Strikes Down Cap on Dispensaries. For the second time in a month, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers has struck down a state law capping the number of dispensaries a medical marijuana business can operate. The limit on the number of storefronts was not contained in the state’s successful medical marijuana amendment but imposed by the legislature in 2017. In her opinion, Gievers harshly criticized the legislature and state health officials for failing to comply with the amendment. "The evidence clearly and conclusively establishes beyond any doubt that conveniently located medical marijuana dispensaries (as opposed to vehicle delivery, the only allowed alternative means of dispensing) promote authorized users’ improved access to medical marijuana products and related information and services, at lower cost, and promote public safety (the stated goals for regulation in the amendment)," Gievers wrote in Friday’s ruling.

Hemp

Mississippi Lawmakers Reject Move to Let Farmers Grow Hemp. The House Drug Policy Committee on Monday rejected on a tie vote an amendment that would have changed state law to allow farmers to grow hemp in the state. Congress last year approved the production of hemp in pilot programs.

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Gets Hearing. The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony Monday on HB 1286, which seeks to end civil asset forfeiture in the state. Law enforcement officials testified against ending civil forfeiture but appeared open to transparency and reporting requirements in the bill.

Harm Reduction

California Legislature to Consider Allowing Pilot Overdose Prevention ProjectsState Assemblymember Susan Talamantes-Eggman (D-Stockton) and State Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) on Monday filed a bill to allow the City of San Francisco to pilot and evaluate an “overdose prevention site” program. These sites would allow drug users could consume illegal drugs, including heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine, under the supervision of staff trained to prevent and treat drug overdose and to help steer people who use drugs into drug treatment, housing, and other medical and social services. The bill is AB 362.

Law Enforcement

Virginia Trooper, Suspect Killed in Drug Raid. State Trooper Lucas Powell was shot and killed Monday night as he participated in a drug raid by the Piedmont Regional Gang and Drug Task Force in Cumberland County. The person whose home was being raided and who killed Powell, Corey Johnson, was then shot and killed by police.

International

Mexico to Try New Tactics in Search for Those Missing in Drug War. Mexican officials said Monday they have a new plan to search for the more than 40,000 people who have gone missing amidst the country’s drug wars. The government will create a new forensic institute and work more closely with families and international groups, interior ministry undersecretary for human rights Alejandro Encinas said at a press conference. In addition to the 40,000 missing, there are some 26,000 unidentified bodies in the forensic system, he said.

Chronicle AM: Mexico Murders Hit Record High, Free MedMJ for Federal Workers, More... (1/24/19)

One company is offering free medical marijuana to federal workers affected by the shutdown, New Mexico sees a pot legalization bill filed, Mexican murders hit an all-time high, and more.

One company is offering free medical marijuana to federal workers affected by the shutdown. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Javier Martinez (D) and four cosponsors filed a marijuana legalization bill, HB 356, Thursday. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website. It would set up a regulated system of marijuana production and sales, automatically expunge certain marijuana offenses, and allow localities to opt out of marijuana sales, among other provisions.

Washington State Bill Would Allow Home Cultivation. A bipartisan group of legislators has filed HB 1131 and a companion measure in the Senate that would allow home cultivation of marijuana. Washington is the only legal state that so far does not allow it. The bills would allow adults to grow up to six plants at home, with a household limit of 15 plants.
Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Provider Offering Free Product to Government Workers Affected by Shutdown. BudTrader.com, which describes itself as “the largest online cannabis marketplace,” is offering free medical marijuana to federal workers who can't pay because of the shutdown. “I don’t think federal employees are getting enough love and support, in these tough times, we want to extend the offer of a donation of medical cannabis to any federal worker affected by the shutdown,” BudTrader CEO Brad McLaughlin said in a Tuesday news release. The company said it will donate “the maximum legal allowable amount of cannabis” to any affected government employees.

CBS Rejects Medical Marijuana Superbowl Ad. CBS has refused to air a Superbowl ad submitted by Acreage Holdings, an American marijuana company whose board of directors includes former House Speaker John Boehner. The ad would have focused on how medical marijuana helped people cope with pain. Acreage said it may sue over the issue.

International

Driven by Drug Wars, Mexico's Murders Hit All-Time High. The Mexican Secretariat of Security and Citizen Protection reported Wednesday that the country saw a record 33,341 homicides last year, up more than 15% over 2017. Many of those killings are directly linked to violence among competing drug cartels and between cartels and the state. The dead included nine journalists, and another one has already been killed there this year.


 

Chronicle AM: Trump Repeats Border Wall Drug Falsehoods, Malaysia Drug Policy Shift, More... (1/21/19)

The president is still misstating the impact of a border wall on drug smuggling, New York police chiefs oppose pot legalization, Malaysia to shift drug policies, and more.

Not overly troubled by facts when it comes to the border. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New York Police Chiefs Come Out Against Legalization. In a statement Friday, the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police formally came out against marijuana legalization. "As Police Officers, we are sworn to enforce Federal, State, and Municipal laws and to protect the public,” they wrote. “Marijuana is illegal under Federal law and is classified as a 'Schedule 1 drug which means that the federal government views cannabis as highly addictive with no medical value." They also cited health and traffic safety issues.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Bill Would Clarify That Hash is Medical Marijuana. Rep. Tony Rivero (R-Peoria) has introduced HB 2149 to remove a provision of the state's criminal code that treats hashish differently than marijuana. The bill is in response to a state appeals court ruling that hashish is not considered to be medical marijuana under state law. That issue is currently before the state Supreme Court, but Rivero's bill would settle the matter once and for all.

Hemp

Federal Shutdown is Hurting Would-Be Hemp Farmers. In a statement released Friday, Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Michael Bennett (D-CO) warned that the government shutdown has stalled the implementation of the recently passed farm bill, which legalized hemp cultivation nationwide. They called on the Bureau of Reclamation to update its water rights policies to reflect hemp legalization and ensure hemp farmers have access to water. The failure to act because of the shutdown has “hindered research, created economic hardships for the affected producers, and led to uncertainty across the West," they wrote.

Drug Testing

Alabama Bill Would Impose Drug Testing on Some Food Stamp Applicants. Rep, Tommy Hanes (R-Bryant) has filed HB 3, which would require drug testing of applicants for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP—food stamps) if there is “reasonable suspicion” the applicant is under the influence of drugs. That would include having had a drug conviction within the previous five years. A first positive test would result in a warning; a second in a denial of benefits. The bill has its critics: “For the state to pay to drug test that many people would be prohibitively expensive and be a real waste of state dollars and a real waste of taxpayer dollars, looking for an occasional recipient who does drugs,” said Carol Gundlach, a policy analyst with Alabama Arise, which works on poverty issues.

The Border

Trump Repeats Border Wall Drug Falsehoods. In his address Saturday on the need for a border wall, President Trump repeated demonstrable falsehoods about the impact it would have on drug smuggling, drug use, and crime. "We can stop heroin," he claimed. "If we build a powerful and fully designed see-through steel barrier on our southern border, the crime rate and drug problem in our country would be quickly and greatly reduced. Some say it could be cut in half." But the DEA has reported that “only a small percentage” of heroin seized by authorities is captured between ports of entry and most is found in vehicles coming through ports of entry. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that about 40% of opioid overdose deaths in 2016 involved prescription pain pills.

International

Malaysia to Focus on Health, Not Criminality, in New Drug Policy. The cabinet task force charged with addressing the nations' drug problems met last Thursday and has decided that the country's drug law needs to be reviewed and the drug use should be viewed primarily as a health issue. "Enforcement shouldn't hinge on trafficking of drugs and shouldn't rely on punishing those who are using the drugs," said Liew Vui Keong, a Minister in the Prime Minister's Department. Reliance on the criminal approach has been ineffective and expensive and endangered the health of addicts, he said.

Chronicle AM: RI Governor Ready to Legalize Weed, Myanmar Opium Crop Drop, More... (1/14/19)

Rhode Island's governor is ready to hop on the pot legalization bandwagon, Vermont solons are moving to legalize pot commerce, Ohio's governor rolls out a response to the opioid crisis, and more.

Opium production is down in Myanmar, the UNODC says. But synthetics are on the rise. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Governor Proposes Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) is proposing marijuana legalization as part of her budget plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Her proposal would allow for regulated marijuana commerce but would ban home cultivation and place limits on the potency of products available for sale. The proposal would also limit the amount of THC in edibles to do more than 5 milligrams per serving. Raimondo has been slow to jump on the legalization bandwagon but said the state should now move in that direction because most of its neighbors are.

Vermont Legislators Prepare Bill to Allow Marijuana Sales. The Senate Judiciary Committee is planning to introduce a bill that would legalize marijuana commerce in the state. The state legalized marijuana possession last year but did not include a system of taxed and regulated sales. This bill would tax sales at 10%, with a 1% local option tax. The state's Marijuana Advisory Commission had recommended a 26% tax and funneling much of the tax revenues into the departments of public safety and health to pay for new enforcement and prevention efforts, but Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) wants the revenues to go into the general fund. He says the bill could pass the Senate within a month, but it faces a rockier path in the House.

Kratom

Utah Bill Would Regulate—Not Ban—Kratom. State Sen. Curt Bramble (R-Provo) has filed SB 58, the “Kratom Consumer Protection Act.” The bill would create regulations about how the substance is sold in the state and would bar the sale and distribution of adulterated kratom.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Ohio Governor Confronts Opioid Crisis. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed an executive order Monday to create RecoveryOhio, an initiative aimed at confronting the state's opioid crisis. He appointed Alisha Nelson, who oversaw drug abuse policy in the attorney general's office to work"every day with a single-minded focus of fighting the drug epidemic," according to the executive order.

International

UN Says Opium Cultivation Down in Myanmar, Cites Rise of Synthetics. Opium cultivation in Myanmar declined for the fourth year in a row last year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said last Friday. UNODC said the 2018 crop was 10% smaller than the previous years. The agency also said the decline was due to a growing regional market in synthetic drugs. 

Chronicle AM: Federal Marijuana Bill Filed, Ciudad Juarez Drug War Killings Surge, More... (1/4/19)

Wow, that was fast: The first marijuana bill of the new Congress has already been filed, an Arizona sheriff finally hops on board the naloxone train, Ciudad Juarez drug war killings are way up, and more.

Deputies in Pima County, Arizona, will finally start carrying the overdose reversal drug naloxone. (pa.gov)
Marijuana Policy

The New Congress Just Saw Its First Marijuana Bill Filed. That didn't take long. Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Don Young (R-AK) on Thursday reintroduced the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act. The bipartisan bill would protect state medical marijuana programs from federal interference and open the way for doctors at the Veterans Administration to recommend medical marijuana. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website, but you can view last year's version here. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is expected to file the Senate version soon.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Georgia Joins List of States Suing Opioid Makers for Fueling Drug Crisis. Georgia has now become the latest of more than 30 states that have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for what they say is their role in fueling the opioid crisis. The state is suing nine opioid makers and distributors in state court for what it calls racketeering and for creating the crisis. "We have over a 1,000 Georgians that died last year, more Georgians dying every day. We have over 1,000 Georgians right now that are suffering from an opioid misuse disorder," said Attorney General Chris Carr. The state is seeking both monetary damages to repay it for costs incurred fighting the epidemic, as well as punitive damages.

Harm Reduction

Arizona's Pima County Sheriff Finally Gets on Board With Deputies Carrying Naloxone. Pima County, home to the state's second largest city, Tucson, has gotten with the program and the sheriff's department will now issue the overdose reversal to deputies. Deputies in eleven of the state's 15 counties already carry it. Department officials had previously argued it was necessary for deputies because paramedics already carried it and because it might become unstable in the Arizona summer heat, but Sheriff Mark Napier admitted Wednesday that medical experts had told him the worse that could happen was that it might not work.

International

Mexico's Ciudad Juarez Had Nearly 1,250 Murders Last Year. The border city just across the Rio Grande from El Paso saw a big spike in murders last year, most of them drug prohibition-related. The state attorney general's office reported 1,247 killings last year, a big increase from the 772 people killed in 2017 and nearly triple the number killed in 2014. Most of the violence is related to the revival of the Juarez Cartel and to the defection of a key Los Aztecas leader to La Linea. Los Aztecas are also in the midst of internal factional strife. But wait, there's more: There's also a factional fight within Los Artistas Asesinos (Assassin Artists), a street enforcement gang with links to the Sinaloa Cartel, which is also working in the area.

Chronicle AM: James Carroll Approved as Drug Czar, Tijuana's Bloody 2018, More... (1/3/19)

Pennsylvania lawmakers are moving on marijuana legalization, the Trump administration finally gets a permanent drug czar, Tijuana saw a bloody year last year, and more.

Colombian coca farmers have been busy expanding their crop, and the US is concerned. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Get Moving on Legalization. On Wednesday, legalization proponent Sen. Daylin Leach (D) revealed that he and Sen. Sharif Street (D) are in the final stages of preparing a bill to legalize marijuana. On Thursday, Rep. Jake Wheatley Jr. (D) sent out a cosponsorship memo seeking support for a soon-to-filed House bill he described as "the most comprehensive legalization legislation to date."

Drug Policy

Senate Approves James Carroll as Drug Czar. James Carroll, who has been acting head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) since February, was confirmed as director Wednesday in one of the last acts of the lame duck Senate. Now, after nearly two years without a drug czar, the White House finally has a top drug policy advisor other than Kellyanne Conway.

Foreign Policy

Pompeo "Concerned" Over Colombia Coca Cultivation Increase. In a meeting with Colombian President Ivan Duque Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US is deeply concerned about rising levels of coca cultivation there. He also said the US would work with Colombia to cut production in half within five years.

International

Tijuana Saw 2,500 Murders Last Year as Drug Wars Raged. The state attorney general's office released a year-end report on December 31 saying that Tijuana had seen 2,499 registered homicides in 2018, but more bodies were found before day's end, bringing the toll past 2,500. The report said about 85% of the killings were related to the drug trade, especially a turf war between the New Generation Tijuana Cartel (aligned with the New Generation Jalisco Cartel) and the Sinaloa Cartel. But some of the killings are a result of factional fights within the Sinaloa Cartel over lucrative street-level markets and smuggling routes to the US.

Chronicle AM: NH Legal Pot Push Begins, Russia Plans for Poppies, More... (12/31/18)

Marijuana bills aimed at the new year begin popping up, Pennsylvania's highest court rules for pregnant drug users, Russia ponders its own poppy crop, and more.

Citing sanctions from the West, Russia is moving to grow its own medicinal poppy crops. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Legalization Bill Ready to File. A group of state lawmakers have agreed on language for a bill that would allow for legal marijuana commerce and let adults possess up to an ounce of weed and grow up to six plants. The bill has not yet been formally filed. Legalization efforts in previous years have been thwarted in the Republican-dominated legislature, but Democrats retook control in the November elections, Still, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has vowed to veto any legalization bill that reaches his desk.

Virginia Decriminalization Bill Ready to Go. When the legislature convenes next week, it will have a decriminalization bill waiting for it. Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) has pre-filed SB 997, which would decriminalize the possession of up to a quarter-ounce of weed and provide for a maximum $50 civil penalty. Under current state law, getting caught with a joint carries a jail sentence of up to 30 days and a $500 fine. Similar bills have been filed in previous sessions, but never made it out of committee.

Pregnancy

Pennsylvania High Court Rules Drug-Using Pregnant Women Can't Be Charged With Child Abuse Under State Child Protection Law. In an opinion issued last Friday, the state Supreme Court held that the state's child protection law does not apply to pregnant women. The court ruled that the law doesn't include fetuses or unborn children and said victims protected by the law must be children.

International

Russia Moves Towards Allowing Medicinal Opium Crops. The Russian government last week approved a draft bill that would allow the country to produce medicinal opium crops. Government officials said the bill was needed to reduce its dependence on foreign countries that supply raw opium to government factories because some of those countries have imposed sanctions on the country. "In order not to leave our population without strong painkillers, we must be self-sufficient," health minister Veronika Skvortsova told reporters. "We need to produce drugs in a full cycle -- from substances to their medicinal form." The bill still needs to be approved by parliament and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

Thai Government Approves Medical Marijuana, Kratom. The Thai ruling junta last week approved a bill legalizing medical marijuana, becoming the first country in Southeast Asia to do so. The bill also regularizes the status of kratom, which comes from there. The bill becomes law once it is approved by the monarchy.

The Year in Drugs II: Good, Bad, and Ugly Global Drug Policy in 2018 [FEATURE]

(See our Top Domestic Drug Stories of 2018 piece here.)

It's been a year we couldn't wait to put behind us, but as 2018 comes to an end, we can look back on some advances on the international drug policy front, as well as continued brutal and regressive responses from some quarters. Here are 10 of the global drug policy stories that shaped the year, for better or worse:

Iranian drug executions have come to a screeching halt in one of the good news stories of 2018. (handsoffcain.info)
1. Drug Death Penalty Reforms Cause Massive Drop in Executions

Early this year, it became official: Iran had reformed its death penalty statutes to radically reduce the number of people facing execution for drug offenses, and it had done so retroactively, saving the lives of thousands already on death row. By mid-year, it was clear that the move was having an impact, as human rights observers reported a 99% reduction in drug executions, with only one person being executed for drugs as of June, compared to more than a hundred during the same period in 2017.

2. Canada Becomes the First G8 Country to Legalize Marijuana

Justin Trudeau pledged that he was elected prime minister, his government would legalize marijuana. It didn't happen as fast as he would have liked, but the Liberals' legalization bill passed parliament in June and went into effect on October 17. So far, the sky has not fallen.

3. Medical Marijuana Earns Growing Acceptance

The year began with Thailand announcing a plan to allow medical marijuana and ended with Thailand approving it and becoming the first Southeast Asian country to do so. But in the meantime, Israeli pharmacies began selling medical marijuana in April, Zimbabwe legalized it in May, and Portugal and Luxembourg followed suit in June. In November, Great Britain joined the club, and Greece issued its first medical marijuana production licenses. Late in the year, in South Korea, the National Assembly approved an amendment to the country's drug laws that will pave the way for the use of medical marijuana by prescription, and New Zealand also approved it in December Not a bad year for medical marijuana.

Canadian Senate
4. The Philippines Drug War Continues, But Pressures Mount…

The bloody drug war of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte continued apace in 2018, with a death toll now put at 12, 000 (20,000 by some estimates), but Duterte has come under increasing pressure both domestically and internationally. In February, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch aimed broadsides at the Philippines even as the International Criminal Court began "preliminary examinations" of whether there is sufficient evidence to bring a case before the court. In March, activists called out drug war human rights abuses at the embassy in Washington, DC. By July, an unbowed Duterte was vowing to continue a "relentless and chilling" drug war even as national human rights groups said he was using it as a cover for assassinating political opponents. In September, he unleashed an attack on a second drug war critic, Senator Antonio Trillanes, after last year imprisoning critic Senator Leila de Lima on trumped up drug charges. She is still imprisoned.

5.. ...and the Rot Spreads in the Region

Following the lead of the Philippines, other countries in the region have also embraced drug war thuggery and human rights abuses. In May, the Bangladeshi opposition warned of a wave of police killings of drug suspects, and within weeks, more than a hundred were killed and 20,000 arrested, even as evidence emerged that the crackdown was being used to hide political assassinations. The situation was fraught enough that the UN human rights head and even the US State Department expressed concern. Drug war killings were also reported in Indonesia, although there were mixed signals about moves toward reforms there, and Sri Lanka vowed to begin hanging drug dealers. Paradoxically though, a Malaysian court's imposition of a death sentence on a man for providing cannabis oil to patients now appears to have resulted in a moratorium on the death sentence and could end the death penalty in its entirety in the county.

6. The US President Aligns Himself With Global Drug War Authoritarians

President Donald Trump was a baleful presence on the global drug policy stage this past year, sympathizing with drug war authoritarians such as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, as well as drug death penalty countries such as China and Singapore. He said early in the year he wants to execute all drug dealers and admires the Singapore approach (mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking), a statement that moved more than 150 organizations to condemn his call. At year's end, he was singing a similar tune with a ghoulish call for more Chinese drug executions. In between, he went to the United Nations to try to gin up a reinvigorated global drug war.

coca leaves drying by highway
7. South Africa Legalizes Marijuana

In a case brought by three marijuana users, the country's Constitutional Court ruled that the private possession, cultivation, and consumption of marijuana is legal. "It will not be a criminal offense for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption," Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo wrote in his ruling. It will, however, remain illegal to use cannabis in public and to sell and supply it. The ruling did not set allowable quantities, with the court saying parliament had two years to come up with a new law that reflected the ruling.

8. Glimmers of Hope in Mexico

then-President Felipe Calderon unleashed the latest chapter of the country's drug wars, bringing violence to levels not seen before in the country, Mexico is showing signs it is ready for change. The death toll from prohibition-related violence is higher than ever, and that is impelling a psh for change, most notably with the election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is very open to finding exits from the drug war, whether it's legalized opium production in Guerrero, granting amnesty for non-violent drug trafficking offenders, or legalizing marijuana. And speaking of legalizing marijuana, the Mexican Supreme Court in November struck down the ban on marijuana possession, cultivation, and use. Now, Lopez Obrador's governing MORENA Party has filed a bill to legalize marijuana sales. Tackling the violence, may be a bit more difficult.

9. Colombia Sees a Record Coca Crop as US Cocaine Deaths Rise

Efforts to reduce coca cultivation and cocaine production in the country after the peace agreement with the FARC rebels have not gone well, and that's causing rising worry in Washington. In June, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that 2017 production was at an all-time high, prompting expressions of concern from the drug czar's office and support from President Trump for new rightist Colombian President Ivan Duque's "head-on fight against drug trafficking." That could include a renewed resort to aerial fumigation, even drones, as well as forced eradication of coca crops, leading to renewed conflict in cultivation zones. Meanwhile, cocaine is now the third leading cause of drug overdose deaths, trailing only fentanyl and heroin.

Vienna International Centre, home to the UN drug agencies
10. Historic UN Cannabis Review Hits Last-Minute Procedural Delay

In June and again in November, the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) of the World Health Organization (WHO) met to consider the evidence on cannabis (marijuana) and its placement in the UN drug scheduling system, which determines whether or what level of control the UN drug conventions mandate that countries maintain for the substance. The conventions specify that substances should receive such an evaluation before being scheduled, but that never happened for marijuana. Observers believe the process should lead to marijuana being moved to a less restrictive schedule than it is in currently -- if the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) votes to adopt such a recommendation from ECDD.

That didn't happen when, earlier this month, WHO voted to delay release of ECDD's recommendations until January, for unexplained reasons. That may mean they get taken up at the main annual CND meeting in Vienna in March, rather than December's intersessional. The delay seems unusual, and probably political, but its intent is unclear.

The next few months may tell. In the meanwhile, ECDD says that CBD shouldn't be scheduled at all. But that didn't stop the US FDA from saying that treaties require it be scheduled, even though they also think it shouldn't be.

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

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

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

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

Foreign Policy

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

Law Enforcement

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

International

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

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

Study: Crackdowns on Heroin, Pain Pills Gave Rise to Fentanyl Overdose Epidemic [FEATURE]

A new report on illicit US drug markets from researchers at the University of San Francisco has found that that the spread of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid implicated in nearly 29,000 overdose deaths last year alone, is tied to enforcement-driven shortages of heroin and prescription opioids, as well simple economics for drug distributors -- not because users particularly desire the drug.

meet the law of unintended consequences (Creative Commons)
Illicit fentanyl has swept through American drug markets in waves -- the super strong "China white" heroin of the 1970s was actually a heroin-fentanyl mixture -- most recently in the past decade after rising levels of opioid addiction and the spread of "pill mills" prompted multifaceted moves to restrict opioid prescribing.

From a drug distributor's perspective, fentanyl is a most excellent substitute for heroin or prescription pain pills. Produced entirely in labs or chemical factories, it is far more powerful and cheaper to produce than heroin. Because it's more potent, it is easier to smuggle -- often coming into the US via postal and delivery service parcels, not by the semi load. And it doesn't require months of growing time and period of intense peasant labor in lawless regions of weak states.

Fentanyl is typically sold deceptively -- marketed as heroin or prescription drugs such as OxyContin or Xanax -- and users and street-level dealers often don't even know that the drugs they are using or selling contain fentanyl, the researchers found. Fentanyl is making its way into the supply chain at the wholesale, not the retail level. That, the researchers said, suggests that demand is not the key driver in the drug's spread.

"Fentanyl is rarely sold as fentanyl," said Sarah Mars, PhD, a researcher in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at UCSF. "The dealers selling fentanyl directly to the users often don't know what's in it. Not only is this particularly dangerous, but it also means penalizing low-level dealers isn't going to make any difference in the fentanyl poisoning epidemic."

According to Mars, users are split on fentanyl, which produces a more sudden and powerful high than heroin, but one that fades faster. Some said fentanyl brought back the euphoria they had lost the ability to feel with long-term heroin use, but others said they feared fentanyl and found its effects too harsh.

"Whether or not they prefer fentanyl, users don't have any influence over what drugs are being sold," Mars said. "Without accurate information about these drugs, they can't make an informed choice about what they are buying. Also, very little drug slang has developed to describe fentanyl, which lends support to the notion that this is not a demand-driven epidemic."

The presence of drugs adulterated with fentanyl is uneven, Mars said.

"Most of the illicit fentanyl has been in the Northeast and Midwest," she specified. And that's where opioid overdose death rates are the highest.

Another contributing factor to the fentanyl overdose toll is that it has dozens of analogs with wildly varying potency. Some, like carfentanil, are amazingly powerful, as much as 10,000 times as potent as morphine. Some are so new they have not yet been made illegal.

"We believe it's the fluctuation in the potency of the drugs containing fentanyl that makes them so dangerous," said Daniel Ciccarone, MD, MPH, a professor of family and community medicine at UCSF and senior author of an ongoing National Institutes of Health-funded study, Heroin in Transition. "You might have one dose that had hardly any fentanyl in it or none at all. Then, you might have one with a different fentanyl analog, of different potency, or even mixtures of multiple fentanyls and heroin."

Here is the paradox of drug prohibition: Trying to crack down on drugs tends to lead not to less drug use but to more dangerous drugs, and in the case of opioids, tens of thousands of dead drug users. There is an inexorable logic at play: The more law enforcement comes down on a drug, the greater the tendency for suppliers to make it more potent and compact -- and dangerous.

Perhaps that's why we now see mainstream calls for a radically different approach, such as the one from Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle earlier this week. In her column "The Incredibly Unpopular Idea That Could Stem Heroin Deaths," McArdle argues that current drug policy is only running up the overdose death toll and that we need "to start talking about ways to make safe, reliable doses of opiates available to addicts who aren't ready to stop."

That would involve increasing access to opioid substitutes such as methadone and buprenorphine, "but lowering the death toll may require a more drastic step: legalizing prescriptions of stronger opiates," McArdle writes.

"Prescription heroin?" she continues. "Remember, I said you might not like the solution. I don't like it, either -- and frankly, neither do the drug policy researchers who told me it may be necessary. But when fentanyl took over the US illicit drug markets, it also got a lot of addicts as hostages. We'll never be able to rescue them unless we can first keep them alive long enough to be saved."

There is a better way to deal with the opioid crisis than relegating tens of thousands of American opioid users to early, preventable deaths. We know what it is. Now it's a matter of implementing smarter, more humane policies, and that's an ongoing political struggle -- one where lives are literally at stake.

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