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Colombian Cocaine Production Jumps, VA Pot Decrim Bill Heads to Governor, More... (3/9/20)

Colombian cocaine production is way up, the US says as it pushes for forced and aerial eradication, NJ pot legalization supporters organize for victory, WVA is moving to increase meth sentences, and more.

Cocaine production in Colombia is at record levels, the US says. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Supporters form Coalition to Push for November Victory. Advocates and stakeholders in the state's marijuana industry have formed a campaign coalition, NJ CAN 2020, to fight for marijuana legalization that includes a racial and social justice approach. The group includes members of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, including the ACLU of New Jersey, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, the Latino Action Network, the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, the NAACP New Jersey State Conference and the NJ CannaBusiness Association.

Oklahoma Sees Another Legalization Initiative Filed. Stakeholders in the state's medical marijuana industry have filed a legalization initiative, SQ 811, in response to an earlier filed legalization initiative that they say would not fully protect the state's existing medical marijuana industry. The initiative would tax marijuana at 25% but says medical marijuana would be "exempt from all taxes." The same group also filed a decriminalization initiative, SQ 812, the same day.

Virginia Legislature Approves Decriminalization Bill. The state Senate on Sunday approved a decriminalization bill, SB 2. The bill has already passed the House, so it now heads to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam (D). Under the bill, possession of up to an ounce will now merit a fine of no more than $50.  

Sentencing

West Virginia Legislature Approves Bill Raising Meth Sentences. The state Senate on Sunday approved HB 4852, which would double mandatory minimum and maximum sentences for possession with intent to manufacture or deliver methamphetamine. What is currently a one-to-five-year sentence would become a two-to-10-year sentence. The bill has already passed the House but has to go back for a concurrence vote to approve changes made in the Senate.

Foreign Policy

United States and Colombian Officials Set Bilateral Agenda to Reduce Cocaine Supply. Last Friday, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the United States Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) led a counternarcotics dialogue with the Government of Colombia to set forth a bilateral, whole-of-government joint action plan to reduce the high levels of coca cultivation and cocaine production by 50 percent by the end of 2023.The dialogue focused on increasing coca eradication and cocaine interdiction, improving security and economic opportunities in the rural areas most afflicted by narcotics trafficking, and targeting narcotics-related money laundering and illicit finances. A focus of the discussion was expanding the results of Colombia’s integrated coca eradication program by ensuring full use of all available tools, including manual eradication, alternative development, and a Colombian-led aerial eradication component, supported by rural development and rural security programs.

International

Canadian Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. Toronto Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith has recently tabled a drug decriminalization bill, C-235, which would remove simple drug possession from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. "The international evidence is pretty clear that the way we have dealt with drug use, the war on drugs and throwing police resources to reduce drug use, has failed and has undermined public-health efforts," Erskine-Smith said. "And the overwhelming evidence today is that we should treat drug use as a health issue and we should be removing barriers to seeking treatment, and decriminalization of simple possession would do just that." Private bills rarely pass, but this is a start.

Colombia Cocaine Production Hit Record High Last Year Despite Forced Eradication, US Says. Cocaine production increased 8% last year, reaching an all-time high, according to figures released by the US government. The increase came even as the US and Colombian governments have been promoting forced eradication of coca crops and refusing to support crop substitution and rural development programs that are broadly considered more effective.

Chronicle AM: Drug Policy Alliance Names New Leader, HI House Passes Drug Defelonization Bill, More... (3/4/20)

The Drug Policy Alliance has a new executive director, Mexico's effort to legalize marijuana stalls in the Senate, the Oklahoma House moves to regulate kratom, and more. 

Kassandra Frederique is the new executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. (DPA)
Kratom

Oklahoma House Passes Bill to Regulate—Not Ban--Kratom. The House on Monday passed House Bill 2846, which would regulate kratom. The measure now heads to the Senate.

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Alliance Names Kassandra Frederique as New Executive Director. Ten-year Drug Policy Alliance veteran Kassandra Frederique has been named executive director of the group following the resignation of Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno earlier this year. Frederique was managing director of policy, advocacy, and campaigns before being named executive director. "Kassandra is well suited to lead DPA," the group said in a press release. "Kassandra started at DPA a decade ago as an intern. Her exemplary work propelled her meteoric rise through the organization... In New York, she ran the campaign that reduced marijuana arrests in NYC by 84%. Through strategic advocacy, she shifted the politics around the issue, even bringing skeptic Gov. Cuomo around to the point that New York is now poised to legalize. Kassandra is the architect of innovative campaigns to roll back mass criminalization and expand the debate around overdose. Her voice leads national conversations about the complex interplay between race and the overdose crisis."

Hawaii Senate Approves Drug Defelonization Bill. The Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that turns low-level drug possession felonies into misdemeanors. House Bill 2581 would create a new fourth degree misdemeanor category for people caught with less than two grams of a controlled substance. Currently, possession of any amount of drugs except marijuana is a felony. The bill now heads to the House for consideration.

Idaho House Passes Bill Relaxing Mandatory Minimums for Heroin, Enacting Them for Fentanyl. The House on Monday passed House Bill 469, which relaxes mandatory minimum sentences for heroin, but added them for fentanyl. In the last two legislative sessions, the House voted to end mandatory minimums, but those bills never moved in the Senate. Now, we'll see if this one does.

International

Mexico Marijuana Legalization Stalled in Senate. With less than two months to meet a Supreme Court deadline to legalize marijuana, legislation to get it done has stalled in the Senate. That's according to opposition Senator Miguel Angel Mancera, who said there is no consensus between the parties. “[Legislation for] recreational use is not moving. It’s more difficult than outsourcing,” the former Mexico City mayor said, referring to a congressional battle over outsourcing last year.

Fentanyl Trade Fuels Cartel Battle in Central Mexico. Five competing drug trafficking groups are fighting over control of the fentanyl trade in the north-central state of Zacatecas, and it's leaving a toll of dead. The number of killings in the state reached 666 last year, more than double the figure from a decade ago. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel dominate the trade, but three other groups are trying to muscle in. They are the Gulf Cartel and two offshoots of the Zetas, known as the Talibanes and the Northeastern Cartel.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org.

Two Takes on the Global Drug War and Global Drug Cultures [FEATURE]

America shows signs of emerging from the century-long shadow of drug prohibition, with marijuana leading the way and a psychedelic decriminalization movement rapidly gaining steam. It also seems as if the mass incarceration fever driven by the war on drugs has finally broken, although tens if not hundreds of thousands remain behind bars on drug charges.

As Americans, we are remarkably parochial. We are, we still like to tell ourselves, "the world's only superpower," and we can go about our affairs without overly concerning ourselves about what's going on beyond our borders. But what America does, what America wants and what America demands has impacts far beyond our borders, and the American prohibitionist impulse is no different.

Thanks largely (but not entirely) to a century of American diplomatic pressure, the entire planet has been subsumed by our prohibitionist impulse. A series of United Nations conventions, the legal backbone of global drug prohibition, pushed by the US, have put the whole world on lockdown.

We here in the drug war homeland remain largely oblivious to the consequences of our drug policies overseas, whether it's murderous drug cartels in Mexico, murderous cops in the Philippines, barbarous forced drug treatment regimes in Russia and Southeast Asia, exemplary executions in China, or corrupted cops and politicians everywhere. But now, a couple of non-American journalists working independently have produced a pair of volumes that focus on the global drug war like a US Customs X-ray peering deep inside a cargo container. Taken together, the results are illuminating, and the light they shed reveals some very disturbing facts.

Dopeworld by Niko Vorobyov and Pills, Powder, and Smoke by Antony Loewenstein both attempt the same feat -- a global portrait of the war on drugs -- and both reach the same conclusion -- that drug prohibition benefits only drug traffickers, fearmongering politicians, and state security apparatuses -- but are miles apart attitudinally and literarily. This makes for two very different, but complementary, books on the same topic.

Loewenstein, an Australian who previously authored Disaster Capitalism and Profits of Doom, is -- duh -- a critic of capitalism who situates the global drug war within an American project of neo-imperial subjugation globally and control over minority populations domestically. His work is solid investigative reporting, leavened with the passion he feels for his subject.

In Pills, Powder, and Smoke, he visits places that rarely make the news but are deeply and negatively impacted by the US-led war on drugs, such as Honduras. Loewenstein opens that chapter with the murder of environmental activist Berta Caceres, which was not directly related to the drug war, but which illustrates the thuggish nature of the Honduran regime -- a regime that emerged after a 2009 coup overthrew the leftist president, a coup justified by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and which has received millions in US anti-drug assistance, mainly in the form of weapons and military equipment.

Honduras doesn't produce any drugs; it's only an accident of geography and the American war on drugs that we even mention the country in the context of global drug prohibition. Back in the 1980s, the administration of Bush the Elder cracked down on cocaine smuggling in the Caribbean, and as traffickers sought to evade that threat, Honduras was perfectly placed to act as a trampoline for cocaine shipments taking an alternative route through Mexico, which incidentally fueled the rise of today's deadly and uber-wealthy Mexican drug cartels.

The drug trade, combined with grinding poverty, huge income inequalities, and few opportunities, has helped turn Honduras into one of the deadliest places on earth, where the police and military kill with impunity, and so do the country's teeming criminal gangs. Loewenstein walks those mean streets -- except for a few neighborhoods even his local fixers deem too dangerous -- talking to activists, human rights workers, the family members of victims, community members, and local journalists to paint a chilling picture. (This is why Hondurans make up a large proportion of those human caravans streaming north to the US border. But unlike Venezuela, where mass flight in the face of violence and economic collapse is routinely condemned as a failure of socialism, you rarely hear any commentators calling the Honduran exodus a failure of capitalism.)

He reexamines one of the DEA's most deadly recent incidents, where four poor, innocent Hondurans were killed by Honduran troops working under DEA supervision in a raid whose parameters were covered up for years by the agency. Loewenstein engaged in extended communication with the DEA agent in charge, as well as with survivors and family members of those killed. Those people report they have never received an apology, not to mention compensation, from the Honduran military -- or from the United States. While the Honduran military fights the drug war with US dollars, Loewenstein shows it and other organs of the Honduran government are also deeply implicated in managing the drug traffic. And news headlines bring his story up to date: Just this month, the current, rightist president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, of meeting with and taking a bribe from a drug trafficker. This comes after his brother, former Honduran Senator Juan Antonio Hernández, was convicted of running tons of cocaine into the United States in a trial that laid bare the bribery, corruption, and complicity of high-level Hondurans in the drug trade, including the president.

Loewenstein also takes us to Guinea-Bissau, a West African country where 70 percent of the population subsists on less than $2 a day and whose biggest export is cashews. Or at least it was cashews. Since the early years of this century, the country has emerged as a leading destination for South American cocaine, which is then re-exported to the insatiable European market.

Plagued by decades of military coups and political instability, the country has never developed, and an Atlantic shoreline suited for mass tourism now serves mainly as a convenient destination for boatloads and planeloads of cocaine. Loewenstein visits hotels whose only clients are drug traffickers and remote fishing villages where the trade is an open secret and a source of jobs. He talks with security officials who frankly admit they have almost no resources to combat the trade, and he traces the route onward to Europe, sometimes carried by Islamic militants.

He also tells the tale of one exemplary drug bust carried out by a DEA SWAT team arguably in Guinean territorial waters that snapped up the country's former Navy minister. The DEA said he was involved in a "narco-terrorist" plot to handle cocaine shipments for Colombia's leftist FARC guerillas, who were designated as "terrorists" by the administration of Bush the Junior in a politically convenient melding of the wars on drugs and terror.

It turns out, though, there were no coke loads, and there was no FARC; there was only a DEA sting operation, with the conspiracy created out of whole cloth. While the case made for some nice headlines and showed the US hard at work fighting drugs, it had no demonstrable impact on the use of West Africa as a cocaine conduit, and it raised serious questions about the degree to which the US can impose its drug war anywhere it chooses.

Loewenstein also writes about Australia, England, and the United States, in each case setting the historical and political context, talking to all kinds of people, and laying bare the hideous cruelties of drug policies that exert their most terrible tolls on the poor and racial minorities. But he also sees glimmers of hope in things such as the movement toward marijuana legalization here and the spread of harm reduction measures in England and Australia.

He gets one niggling thing wrong, though, in his chapter on the US. He converses with Washington, DC, pot activists Alan Amsterdam and Adam Eidinger, the main movers behind DC's successful legalization initiative, but in his reporting on it, he repeatedly refers to DC as a state and once even mistakenly cites a legal marijuana sales figure from Washington state. (There are no legal sales in DC.) Yes, this is a tiny matter, but c'mon, Loewenstein is Australian, and he should know a political entity similar to Canberra, the Australian Capital Territory.

That quibble aside, Loewenstein has made a hardheaded but openhearted contribution to our understanding of the multifaceted malevolence of the never-ending war on drugs. And I didn't even mention his chapter on the Philippines. It's in there, it's as gruesome as you might expect, and it's very chilling reading.

Vorobyov, on the other hand, was born in Russia and emigrated to England as a child. He reached adulthood as a recreational drug user and seller -- until he was arrested on the London Underground and got a two-year sentence for carrying enough Ecstasy to merit a charge of possession with intent to distribute. After that interval, which he says inspired him to write his book, he got his university degree and moved back to Russia, where he picked up a gig at Russia Today before turning his talents to Dopeworld.

Dopeworld is not staid journalism. Instead, it is a twitchy mish-mash, jumping from topic to topic and continent to continent with the flip of a page, tracing the history of alcohol prohibition in the US at one turn, chatting up Japanese drug gangsters at the next, and getting hammered by ayahuasca in yet another. Vorobyov himself describes Dopeworld as "true crime, gonzo, social, historical memoir meets fucked up travel book."

Indeed. He relates his college-boy drug-dealing career with considerable panache. He parties with nihilistic middle-class young people and an opium-smoking cop in Tehran, he cops $7 grams of cocaine in Colombia and tours Pablo Escobar's house with the dead kingpin's brother as a tour guide, he has dinner with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's family in Mexico's Sinaloa state and pronounces them nice people ("really chill"), and he meets up with a vigilante killer in Manila.

Vorobyov openly says the unsayable when it comes to writing about the drug war and drug prohibition: Drugs can be fun! While Loewenstein is pretty much all about the victims, Vorobyov inhabits the global drug culture. You know: Dopeworld. Loewenstein would bemoan the utter futility of a record-breaking seizure of a 12-ton load of cocaine; Vorobyov laments, "that's 12 tons of cocaine that will never be snorted."

Vorobyov is entertaining and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and he brings a former dope dealer's perspective to bear. He's brash and breezy, but like Loewenstein, he's done his homework as well as his journalistic fieldwork, and the result is fascinating. To begin to understand what the war on drugs has done to people and countries around the planet, this pair of books makes an essential introduction. And two gripping reads.

Dopeworld: Adventures in the Global Drug Trade by Niko Vorobyov (August 2020, St. Martin's Press, hardcover, 432 pp., $29.99)

Pills, Powder, and Smoke: Inside the Bloody War on Drugs by Antony Loewenstein (November 2019, Scribe, paperback, 368 pp., $19.00)

Chronicle AM: Trump Says Colombia Must Restart Spraying Coca Crop, UT Gets First Dispensary, More... (3/3/20)

Connecticut lawmakers hold a hearing on marijuana legalization, Mexican lawmakers prepare to debate a marijuana legalization bill, President Trump says Colombia must restart aerial spraying of coca crops, and more. 

President Trump calls on Colombia to restart the aerial spraying of glyphosate on coca crops. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Lawmakers Hold Hearing on Marijuana Legalization. Members of the Judiciary Committee held a hearing on marijuana legalization Monday. The topic was details of a legalization proposal, Senate Bill 6, from Gov. Ned Lamont (D). Under Lamont's proposal, possession of up to 1.5 ounces would be legal for people 21 and over and past pot possession convictions would automatically be expunged for people convicted before 2015. Lawmakers heard from the public, and the committee's next step is a meeting where lawmakers can voice their opinions and then vote on the bill.

Louisiana Activists Rally for Marijuana Law Reform. Members of the reform group Legalize Louisiana rallied in cities across the state Monday to lobby for marijuana rights. Activists gathered outside courthouses in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Lake Charles, and New Orleans to demand expansion of medical marijuana, legal reforms, and marijuana legalization.

Maine Legal Marijuana Sales Pushed Back Three Months. Voters legalized marijuana in the state in 2016, but legal sales have yet to happen, and now they're being pushed back another three months. The problem is time-consuming license applications for pot businesses. Applicants must first receive a conditional state license, then get local approval, then return to the state for an active license. The Office of Marijuana Policy says it has received 200 applications, with 80 of them complete enough for regulatory review.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Bill to Cap THC Levels Hits Snag. An amendment to an appropriations bill that seeks to limit medical marijuana to no more than 10% THC for patients under 21 has hit a snag in the Senate. Senate Health Policy Chairwoman Gayle Harrell, (R-Stuart) introduced the proposal Monday and tried to add it to a Department of Health appropriations bill but has now removed it after facing questions from members of the Senate Rules Committee.

Utah Sees First Dispensary Open. The Beehive State's first medical marijuana dispensary opened in Salt Lake City Monday. Dragonfly Wellness on State Street beat everyone else to the punch. Thirteen other dispensaries are expected to open across the state this year.

Foreign Policy

Trump Says Colombia Will Have to Restart Spraying of Coca Crops. During a meeting with Colombian President Ivan Duque, US President Donald Trump said Colombia will have to restart its aerial spraying program in order to destroy the country's coca crop. "You're going to have to spray," Trump told journalists at a White House meeting with Duque. "If you don't spray you're not going to get rid of (the coca), so you have to spray with regard to the drugs in Colombia." Colombia suspended aerial spraying of the crop in 2015, after the World Health Organization linked glyphosate to environmental harm and cancer risks.

International

Mexico Congress to Debate Marijuana Legalization This Week. The Mexican congress will debate a 228-page marijuana legalization bill this week. It would allow people 18 and over to possess up to an ounce, with possession of more than an ounce but less than 200 grams decriminalized. People could also grow their own crop as long as their harvest is less than 480 grams. Possession of up to 200 grams would be decriminalized. The Mexican Institute of Regulation and Control of Cannabis, a decentralized body established under the measure, would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing licenses for marijuana businesses. There would be a 12% tax on retail marijuana sales.

Chronicle AM: OR Drug Decriminalization Initiative Launches, Colombia Coca Conflict, More... (3/2/20)

Utah's medical marijuana program rolled out today, an Oregon initiative would decriminalize the possession of personal amounts of all drugs, Nepalese Communist lawmakers move toward legalizing marijuana farming, and more. 

Colombian cocaine seized at the US-Mexico border. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Measure Would Cap THC at 10% for Underage Patients. House Speaker Jose Oliva (R-Hialeah) last Friday filed an amendment to a Senate Appropriations Committee bill that would cap the THC level of medical marijuana at 10% for underage patients. Last month, Oliva said that capping medical marijuana at 10% was one of his priorities. The amendment to Senate Bill 230, which limits the cap to kids, is most likely a concession to veterans' groups that made it clear last week they opposed any caps.

Utah Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Amendments Bill. Gov. Gary Herbert (R) last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 121, just days before the state's medical marijuana program opened Monday. The changes in the bill include packaging, expungements, dosing, and limits on how many patient recommendations doctors can provide. "This bill makes needed adjustments and clarifications to Utah’s medical cannabis law," Herbert said. "These changes will help us ensure that Utah patients have the best possible access to cannabis products as our new program rolls out on Monday, March 2."

Drug Policy

Oregon Drug Decriminalization Initiative Launches. A campaign to put a drug treatment and drug decriminalization initiative, the "Drug Treatment and Recovery Act" ( IP 44), on the November ballot launched on Saturday. The measure would take money from the state's existing marijuana tax revenues to fund the expansion of access to drug treatment, as well as decriminalizing the possession of personal use amounts of all drugs, including cocaine, meth, and heroin. If the measure qualifies for the ballot and passes in November, Oregon would be the first state in the country to decriminalize drug possession.

Harm Reduction

Missouri Needle Exchange Bill Passes House. The House last Friday passed House Bill 1486, which would legalize needle exchanges across the state. The bill now heads to the Senate.

International

Colombia High Court Reminds Government No Aerial Fumigation of Coca without Crop Substitution. The country's Constitutional Court last Thursday reminded the government of President Ivan Duque that if it does not help farmers find substitutes for their coca crops—as agreed in a 2016 treaty with the FARC—it will not be able to engage in aerial crop fumigation. The move came in reaction to the government reportedly ended a contract with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime that monitors the crop substitution program. The Duque government has said it will resume aerial eradication this year.

Nepalese Communist Party Lawmaker Files Bill to Legalize Marijuana Farming. Former law minister and current House member Sher Bahadur filed a private bill Monday to allow marijuana farming. The move comes after 46 lawmakers last month called for legalization. The Nepalese parliament is controlled by the Nepalese Communist Party.

Trump's Latest Drug Budget: Pretty Much More of the Same [FEATURE]

The Trump administration rolled out its proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 National Drug Control Budget Tuesday, and it's pretty much more of the same -- $35.7 billion more, to be precise. That's a proposed $94 million increase over what was actually allocated in the current fiscal year.

cocaine seized by US Customs at the Mexican border (dhs.gov)
To be fair, only about half of that money would be destined for the fruitless and endless battle to enforce drug prohibition. The request includes $18.6 billion for prevention and treatment efforts and $17.1 billion for "domestic law enforcement, interdiction, and international drug control efforts," the drug war side of the federal drug budget.

"The FY 2021 budget request sends a strong message that, although we've seen signs of real progress, the Trump administration will not let up in our efforts to save American lives," Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director Jim Carroll said in a statement accompanying the budget release. "Whether it is going after drug traffickers, getting people struggling with addiction the help they need, or stopping drug misuse before it starts, this budget request ensures our partners will have the resources needed to create safer and healthier communities across the nation."

But big talk notwithstanding, there's not really much of a bump for much-needed treatment. The budget would provide more than $14 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services for drug treatment funding, a 3% increase for the department and a 2.9% increase for treatment funding across the federal government. That includes $3.9 billion in drug treatment funding for the DEA for something outside its purview and for which it has not been previously funded.

There's another $2.135 billion for prevention, which we tend to think of mainly as educational efforts, but which the administration notes includes coercive and punitive "drug-free workplace programs" and "drug testing in various settings, including athletic activities, schools, and the workplace."

Ironically given ONDCP's role in rolling out the drug budget, the budget once again takes aim directly at ONDCP. Since the Bush administration, there have been efforts to eliminate or sideline ONDCP, and the Trump administration is back at it. This budget, if enacted, would slash the drug czar's office funding from the $261 million allocated this year to a measly $4.3 million next year, a whopping 98.4% reduction. Congress has so far always rejected such moves. The major part of that reduction results from the transfer of control over High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) funds from ONDCP to the DEA.

And speaking of the DEA and the prohibition enforcement fraction of the overall drug budget, DEA would see its budget increase to $3.1 billion, an increase of 15.8% over this year. More than half of that increase, though, comes from the transfer of those HIDTA funds from ONDCP.

Overall, domestic drug law enforcement spending would increase to $9.95 billion dollars, a jump of 0.9% over this year. That would include $3.4 billion to pay for housing federal drug war prisoners, $931 million for the US Marshals Service to catch more drug war fugitives, and more than half a billion dollars for the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force program, among other line items.

There's also $3.4 billion for the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection to "protect America's land, sea, and air borders from drug trafficking-related security threats." At the same time, though, the budget would reduce the Defense Department's drug interdiction activities -- think Coast Guard ships loaded with seized cocaine -- from $225 million to $109 million, a reduction of more than half.

But there's also international drug enforcement spending, and the Pentagon would get another $200 million for interdiction and counterdrug activities. That would be a dramatic 43% reduction from the $354 million appropriated this year.

The Justice Department, though, would see a 31% increase in its overseas spending, to just over half a billion dollars. The vast bulk of that funding -- $499.7 million -- would be destined for DEA overseas activities.

But the department with the biggest chunk of foreign drug war funding is State, which would see its Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement ("drugs and thugs") funded at $441 million, up 15% over this year. That includes things like trying to suppress the Afghan opium crop or the Colombian coca crop, tasks which have proven remarkably futile.

This is the Trump administration's drug war wish list. It is only a budget proposal and is unlikely to remain unchanged, and with keeping ONDCP active a long-running congressional priority, the radical reduction in its funding is one item that's likely to be amended. Still, the Congress has for years passed largely similar drug budgets, and this one will probably pass, too, without many substantial changes.

Chronicle AM: Colombia Coca Moves, VT Legal Marijuana Sales Bill Advances, More... (2/25/20)

A Vermont bill to tax and regulate marijuana sales heads for a House floor vote, a potential Ohio marijuana legalization initiative campaign emerges, Israel's embattled prime minister says his government is open to marijuana legalization, and more.

A Colombian peasant working the coca fields. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Poll Has Slim Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Minnesota Public Radio and the Minneapolis Star Tribune has support for marijuana legalization at 51%, with 37% opposed. The poll comes after House Democrats last month revealed plans for a marijuana legalization bill. That bill faces tough prospects in the Republican-led Senate, though.

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Emerges. Some state medical marijuana growers are among a new coalition working on putting a marijuana legalization initiative before the voters in November. The proposed constitutional amendment would allow people 21 and over to buy, possess, and consume up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants. Existing medical marijuana businesses would get the first shot at the market, with state regulators deciding later on whether to issue additional licenses. Not all of the medical marijuana sector is behind the move, though.

Vermont Marijuana Sales Legalization Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. A bill to legalize and tax marijuana sales, Senate Bill 54, is now set for a House floor vote after winning the approval of the House Appropriations Committee on a 6-5 vote. The House floor vote should come later this week. The Senate passed the bill last year, but because of changes in the House, differences will have to be settled through a conference committee.

Sentencing Policy

Colorado Bill to Reverse Drug Defelonization Gets Hearing Thursday. The House Judiciary Committee will hear a bill Thursday that seeks to undo a law passed last year that changed drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors. House Bill 20-150 seeks to undo the sentencing reform before it takes effect next month.

International

Colombia Ends Crop Substitution Monitoring Program with UN. The Colombian government has ended its cooperation with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in monitoring coca crop substitution, a program the government of President Ivan Duque said it wanted to end. But ending the program would put the government out of compliance with its 2016 peace deal with leftist FARC guerrillas, so the government backed away from that. But refusing to monitor the program would block the UNODC from evaluating the effectiveness of planned forced coca eradication, recently announced by Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo and supported by the Trump administration. Previous UNODC reports have found that only a tiny 0.4% of voluntary eradicated crops had been replanted, while the number for forcibly eradicated crops was 80%, making the program quite ineffective.

Colombia Launches Military Push Against FARC Dissidents in National Parks. Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said Monday the military will step up an offensive against FARC dissidents who have again taken up arms and are overseeing the clearing of thousands of acres of land in national parks for coca cultivation. Trujillo claimed the FARC dissidents were forcing peasants to clear the land and "commit a massacre against nature."

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu Says His Government is Exploring Marijuana Legalization. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday his government is exploring legalizing recreational marijuana and is looking at Canada as a model. He said Justice Minister Amir Ohana "has begun work on the issue, and he will head a committee including professionals and Oren Leibovich, chairman of the [pro-legalization] Green Leaf Party, that will investigate importing the Canadian model for regulation of a legal market in Israel." Netanyahu, who is struggling to maintain power, has gone through two indecisive elections since last April and faces a third next month.

Chronicle AM: VA Pot Decrim Bill Passes Legislature, Trump Budget Would Shift Colombia Aid Priorities, More... (2/12/20)

The Virginia legislature passes marijuana decriminalization, a Kentucky medical marijuana bill heads for a House floor vote, a South Dakota hemp bill passes the House, and more.

The Trump administration is eyeing Colombian coca and cocaine production in its new budget. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Legislature Approves Marijuana Decriminalization Bill; Governor Expected to Sign. Hours after the House of Delegates approved decriminalization Tuesday, the state Senate followed suit by approving its own version of the bill, SB 2. Governor Ralph Northam (D) has said he would sign such a bill, but it first needs to go to conference committee to settle minor differences between the House and Senate versions.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky House Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The House Judiciary Committee voted 17-1 Wednesday to approve  HB 136, which would allow for the use of medical marijuana for certain debilitating medical conditions. The measure now heads for a House floor vote. A similar bill was approved by the committee last year, but never got a floor vote. This year, 51 of the state's 100 representatives are cosponsors.

Hemp

South Dakota House Passes Hemp Bill with No Debate. The House passed a bill to legalize industrial hemp cultivation, HB 1008, with a two-thirds majority after hearing no debate at all. It now goes to the Senate. If that body also passes it by a two-thirds majority and Gov. Kristi Noem (R) signs it into law, an emergency clause would go into effect allowing state farmers to grow a crop this year.

Foreign Policy

Trump Budget Proposal Would Slash Colombia Development Aid, Boost Ant-Drug Funding. President Trump's new federal budget proposal would slash economic assistance to Colombia by nearly $70 million while at the same time nearly doubling anti-drug funding from $125 million this year to $237.5 million for the coming fiscal year, which begins October 1. The budget proposal says the funding is needed to fight "threats posed by sharp increases in coca cultivation."

International

Croatia Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. A Croatian lawmaker has introduced a bill that would legalize recreational cannabis sales and permit adults to grow up to nine marijuana plants for personal use. Mirela Holy, head of the Social Democratic Party's Green Development Council filed the bill and said it will be subject to first public and then parliamentary debate. The country has decriminalized pot possession and legalized medical marijuana in 2015, but marijuana sales remains a felony with a mandatory minimum three-year prison sentence.

Chronicle AM: VA Pot Decrim Bill Passes House, Nepalese Communists Say Free the Weed, More... (2/10/20)

Colorado activists want to de-legalize weed, Nepalese communists want to re-legalize weed, the Afghan and US governments spar over opium production, and more. 

Sadhus sharing cannabis at Nepal's festival of Shiva. The communist government is moving to re-legalize the herb. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Initiative Would Undo Marijuana Legalization. A pair of activist attorneys have filed Ballot Proposal #249, which would repeal the section of the state constitution that legalizes marijuana. The proposal is only four sentences long, with the key sentence being: "Article XVIII, Section 16 of the Colorado Constitution (Personal Use and Regulation of Marijuana) is repealed." The proposal does not seek to change the status quo around legal medical marijuana and hemp. It is currently being reviewed by Legislative Council Staff before heading to the secretary of state's office for title review. Only slightly more than one-third of voters polled in 2016 (the most recent data) supported reversing legalization.

Virginia Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Passes House, Needs One More Vote in Senate. The House has approved HB 972, which would make simple pot possession an infraction punishable by no more than a $25 fine. Under current state law, it is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine for a first offense. The bill also ends driver's license suspensions for adults and treats hash oil like marijuana, instead of the Schedule I substance it is currently considered. The Senate version  of the bill also advanced, passing the Finance and Appropriations Committee with a vote 12-3. It now heads for a final Senate floor vote.

International

ONDCP Releases Data on Poppy Cultivation and Potential Opium Production in Afghanistan. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar's office) has released the results of the annual US Government estimate measuring poppy cultivation and potential opium production in Afghanistan. The US government estimate found poppy cultivation decreased in 2019 compared to 2018, but potential pure opium production increased.  Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan declined 28 percent, from 221,000 hectares in 2018 to 160,000 hectares in 2019.  Conversely, potential pure opium production increased by 21 percent, from 5,550 metric tons in 2018 to 6,700 metric tons in 2019.  Low opium prices at planting time drove the decline in cultivation.  The rise in potential pure production is a direct result of favorable weather and harvesting conditions.

Afghanistan Interior Ministry Denies ONDCP Opium Report. The Ministry of the Interior has challenged the ONDCP report about a surge of Afghan opium production, saying there has been a significant reduction in drug production in the county because counter-narcotics police have conducted "several raids to destroy it." Officials also cited tighter border controls. "I can assure you about reduction of narcotic products. There are several reasons behind it, the night raids, draught, and narcotics price has downed and recently poppy cultivation in Iraq has scaled up," added Deputy Ministry of Counter Narcotics Najibullah Ahmadi.

Colombia Sets Goal of Eradicating 320,000 Acres of Coca This Year. Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said Monday that Colombia hopes to eradicate some 321,237 acres (130,000 hectares) of coca this year. Tools to achieve that goal could include the aerial spraying of the herbicide glyphosate. The country is under constant pressure from the US, the principal market for Colombian cocaine, to reduce coca cultivation. Last year, Colombia destroyed about 250,000 acres of coca using manual eradication. Aerial spraying of glyphosate was banned in 2015, but President Ivan Duque's government is working to get around that ban and reintroduce the practice.

Nepal's Ruling Communist Party Proposes Marijuana Legalization. Lawmakers from the ruling Communist Party have proposed legalizing marijuana in the country, which has a long history of use. Some 46 members of the party filed the proposal in the parliament. "Legalizing marijuana will help the poor farmers and since most of the Western world, which was reason for making it illegal in the first place, have already ended the prohibition, Nepal should also lift the ban," lawmaker Birod Khatiwada said Monday. Marijuana was only criminalized in 1976 under Western pressure after Nepal developed a reputation as a cannabis-friendly destination on the counter-cultural hippie trail in the 1960s.

Chronicle AM: VA Pot Decrim Bill Heads for House Floor Vote, Thai Opium Cultivation Declines, More... (2/6/20)

Marijuana decriminalization is moving in Virginia, medical marijuana home cultivation is moving in New Hampshire, a class action lawsuit goes after Detroit-area car seizures, and more.

There are fewer of these in Thailand these days. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Governor Renews Marijuana Legalization Pledge in Budget Proposal and Speech. In his State of the State address Wednesday, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) reiterated his call for marijuana legalization. He also put money where his mouth is by including funding for a legal marijuana regulatory framework in the budget proposal submitted to legislators. He also called for regional coordination in marijuana legalization. "The patchwork of cannabis and vaping laws are impossible to enforce. We will work with our neighboring states to make our laws safe, uniform, and enforceable. Like it or not, legalized marijuana is a short drive away in Massachusetts and New York is soon to follow," he added. "Right now do you realize that what you can buy legally in Massachusetts right across the border can land you in prison here in Connecticut for up to a year?"

Virginia General Assembly Blocks Marijuana Legalization, But Advances Decriminalization Bill. The House Courts of Justice Committee voted Wednesday to refer three marijuana legalization bills for study, effectively killing them for this session. At the same time, the committee voted to approve a decriminalization bill, HB 972, setting it up for a House floor vote. Similar legislation is also moving in the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Home Cultivation Bill. The state Senate Thursday approved a bill that would allow patients and caregivers to grow their own medicine. SB 420 now heads to the House, which has passed similar legislation with strong support. The bill allows for the cultivation of three mature plants, three immature plants, and 12 seedlings. Gov. Chris Sununu (R) vetoed a similar bill last year. The House voted to override his veto, but the Senate fell three votes short of doing so.

Asset Forfeiture

Class Action Lawsuit Targets Detroit Car Seizures. A class action lawsuit filed in federal court in Detroit Wednesday accuses the Wayne County Sheriff's Office of seizing thousands of cars and other property belonging to residents who have not committed crimes in violation of their constitutional rights. "Innocent property owners find themselves ensnared in this system," the lawsuit asserts, leaving them to face the "permanent loss of their car or other property, even when someone else is alleged to have committed a crime without the property owner's knowledge or consent." The lawsuit was filed by the libertarian Institute for Justice.

Drug Testing

Ohio Supreme Court to Decide Whether Worker Drug Testing That Exposed Genitals Invades Privacy. The state Supreme Court has heard oral arguments in a case where workers at the company Sterilite had their genitals viewed during random drug tests. Four employees of the company sued claiming an invasion of privacy. The case was originally thrown out by a Stark County Common Pleas judge in 2017, but both sides appealed, and the case is now before the state's high court. Employees at the company were asked to submit to "direct observation" random drug tests where drug test administrators watched their groin areas while they produced urine specimens. Two of the plaintiffs were fired because they didn't provide a urine sample within the two-and-a-half hours allotted, according to court records. The original lawsuit seeks reinstatement with back pay for some of the plaintiffs. All four plaintiffs are seeking damages to compensate for pain, suffering and embarrassment.

International

Nigerian Governor Lobbies President to Legalize Marijuana. Ondo State Gov. Rotimi Akeredolu met with President Buhari on Tuesday and renewed his call for marijuana legalization. He argued that legalization would bring economic and health benefits to the country. "It's not because I take it; I take CBD, that's the oil, for medical purposes. I am convinced about the use to which we can put marijuana," Akeredolu said. "I know of the fact because we had to bring in experts, who have gone round and believe that the strain of marijuana that we grow in Ogbese in Ondo State is the best in the world. So, if you have that then a government must find a way to put it into good use. Our own is that the pathway to growing marijuana is for medical reasons, not for anybody to smoke."

Thai Opium Cultivation Keeps Declining, UNODC Says. Opium cultivation dropped last year, continuing a downward trend that began in 2014, according to a new UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) survey. The amount of land cultivated with poppies dropped 11% last year, down to about 80,000 acres. UNODC said that "the highest levels of cultivation continue to take place in unstable and conflict prone areas of Shan and Kachin." Production now is less than one-fifth it was at its peak in 1996.

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