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AZ Poll Shows Strong Support for MJ Legalization, BC Premier Asks for Canada Drug Decrim, More... (7/21/20)

The city of Chicago will pay out big time for seizing the vehicles of people in small-time drug busts, a California bill would undo some drug war sentencing excesses, the Colombian opposition has filed a bill to decriminalize and regulate cocaine, and more.

Cocaine could be decriminalized and regulated under a bill being considered in Colombia. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll has support for marijuana legalization at 62%. The poll comes as backers of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act legalization initiative awaits confirmation from state officials that it has submitted a sufficient number of valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Asset Forfeiture

Chicago to Pay $5 Million to Settle Class Action Suit Over Vehicles Seized in Drug Busts. A city council committee on Monday approved a $5 million payout to settle a class action lawsuit filed by two people whose vehicle was seized after a passenger was arrested for marijuana possession. The settlement will apply to hundreds of other cases where drivers had their vehicles impounded as part of drug cases. The settlement will pay people whose cars were seized the estimated Kelly Blue Book value of the vehicle.

Sentencing

California Bill Would End Mandatory Jail and Prison Sentences for Drug Offenses. State Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) has filed SB 378, which would repeal 1980s drug war laws that enacted mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. Under current law, judges are denied the discretion to sentence drug offenders to probation or diversion. "For a lot of people in progressive California it is surprising to hear that in 2020, with all of the reforms that we've been working on for years, that there are still mandatory jail or prison sentences for non-violent drug offenses," Wiener explained. "But here we are in California, in 2020, with mandatory prison or jail sentences for nonviolent drug sentences," he said.

International

British Columbia Premier Asks Canadian Federal Government to Decriminalize Drugs. BC Premier John Horgan sent a letter Monday to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to have the federal government decriminalize drug possession. Such a move would "reduce the systemic stigma associated with illicit drug use and support people to access the services that they need," he said. "Criminal prohibitions are ineffective in deterring drug use, and criminalization of drug possession directly leads to both individuals and systemic stigma and discrimination that prevent people from seeking services," he added.

Colombia Opposition Files Cocaine Decriminalization Bill. A pair of opposition senators have filed a bill to decriminalize cocaine and regulate its production. The bill is part of a broader package to end the war on drugs that was filed last year by the leftist and centrist opposition blocs. The bill seeks strict state control over coca cultivation and cocaine production in a bid to cut the finances of drug trafficking organizations and armed groups.

MT Legalization Activists Say They've Qualified for Ballot, Mexican Cartel Shows Off Its Firepower, More... (7/20/20)

New Approach Montana says county-level data shows it has qualified a marijuana legalization initiative for the November ballot but the results aren't official yet, Canada's health minister says she's open to discussing drug decriminalization, and more.

The Jalisco New Generation Cartel released this video of a massive armed convoy last Friday. (screen grab)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Activists Say County Figures Show They Qualified for Ballot. New Approach Montana, the group behind the I-190 marijuana legalization initiative and the C-118 constitutional amendment to set the legal age for marijuana at 21, said last Friday that official county-level data shows they collected enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The claim is based on county-level signature verification data, as well as the campaign's own verification process. The group said it had 8,000 more valid signatures than the 25,000 required for the initiative and nearly 2,000 more valid signatures than the 51,000 required for the constitutional amendment.

Drug Policy

Third Party Presidential Candidates Embrace Marijuana Legalization, Drug Decriminalization. Both the Libertarian and Green Party presidential nominees are supporting bold drug policy proposals, including marijuana legalization. Neither Democratic nominee Joe Biden nor incumbent Republican Donald Trump have embraced marijuana legalization. Libertarian pick Jo Jorgensen and Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins both back legalizing marijuana for adult use and more broadly ending the criminalization of other currently illicit substances. "We've got to treat drug abuse as a health problem. You should legalize marijuana and decriminalize the hard drugs like Portugal," Hawkins said. "Instead of just throwing people in prison and building the biggest prison industrial system in the world -- which Joe Biden had a lot to do [with], he wrote the legislative architecture for that as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- we should be treating drug addiction as a health problem, not a criminal problem."

International

Canada Health Minister Open to Examining Drug Decriminalization. In response to a request from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Health Minister Patty Hadju said she was open to having discussions about drug decriminalization. "To find out how we would do that in the best possible way. I'm excited to explore all possibilities to reduce the criminalization of people who use substances," she said. "You know having been a person who worked in drug policy for a long time, I can tell you when you have the support of enforcement to take the next steps or affirm what you are doing, I think that's very important," Hajdu said.

Mexico Puts Army in Charge of Customs to Fight Drug Trade. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has announced that he is placing the Army in charge of Customs at land borders and seaports in a bid to stamp out large-scale corruption linked to the illicit drug trade. "We've taken this decision due to the poor administration of the seaports, with corruption and drug smuggling in these ports," he said. The move does not include the country's airports. Mexican seaports are entry points for precursor chemicals for heroin and methamphetamine manufacture.

Mexican Cartel Shows Off Its Firepower. In what is being described by analysts as a message to the Mexican government, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) released a video last Friday showing heavily-armed cartel members alongside a long, long convoy of armored vehicles. The video shows about 75 gunmen wearing military-style fatigues and at least 20 armored vehicles, some emblazoned with CJNG initials and "special forces" or "elite group." The video release came as President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was visiting Jalisco state.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. 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.)

House Hearing on DC Entheogens Init, Colombia Drug Gangs Enforce Pandemic Lockdowns, More... (7/16/20)

A first congressional challenge to the Washington, DC, natural psychedelics initiative has been fended off, Mexico's toll of "disappeared" in drug violence in the past 14 years tops 70,000, and more.

ayahuasca-inspired art (CC)
Psychedelics

House Committee Takes Up DC Natural Psychedelics Initiative. The House Appropriations Committee, which has jurisdiction over affairs in Washington, DC, held a hearing Wednesday to debate the status of magic mushrooms in the nation's capital, as an initiative that would make natural psychedelics the lowest law enforcement priority appears set to make the November ballot. The day saw an amendment by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), a longtime foe of DC drug reform efforts, which would bar the use of natural psychedelics without a doctor's recommendation, but Harris then withdrew the amendment in the face of Democratic opposition. "If the district's residents want to make mushrooms a lower priority and focus limited law enforcement resources on other issues, that is their prerogative," said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL).

International

Colombia Drug Gangs, Armed Groups Are Killing Pandemic Lockdown Violators, Human Rights Watch Says. Armed groups tied to drug trafficking organizations have enforced their own lockdown orders and killed people who didn't comply, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch. The group has documented at least nine killings for breaking social distancing orders since April, as well as documented examples of armed groups threatening and attacking people who breaks the groups' lockdown rules. "In communities across Colombia, armed groups have violently enforced their own measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19," José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said in the report released Wednesday. "This abusive social control reflects the government's long-standing failure to establish a meaningful state presence in remote areas of the country, including to protect at-risk populations."

Mexico's Toll of Disappeared Rises Again. The number of people who have been "disappeared" in the prohibition-related violence ripping through Mexico has officially risen to 73,201, up from 61,000 in January. The vast majority of the disappearances have come since 2006, when the contemporary Mexican "war on drugs" began. In that same period, authorities have unearthed nearly 4,000 clandestine graves, with 6,625 bodies recovered.

ID MedMJ Initiative Campaign Threatens to Sue Over Signature-Gathering, Colombia to Spray Coca Crops, More... (7/14/20)

The Idaho Cannabis Coalition threatens to sue if state officials don't allow it to use electronic signature-gathering in the midst of the pandemic, a drug testing lab reports spikes in the use of four illicit drugs during the pandemic, and more.

Colombian coca grower (DEA)
Medical Marijuana

Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Threatens to Sue Over State's Refusal to Allow Electronic Signature-Gathering. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition, the people behind a medical marijuana initiative, is now threatening to sue state officials if they continue to block activists from collecting signatures electronically. The move comes after a federal court ruled that an unrelated initiative campaign could move ahead with electronic signature-gathering. The medical marijuana campaign sent a letter to state officials Monday saying that while it "has no interest in litigation," it will sue if the state does not respond to its request by Thursday.

Drug Use

Positive Test Rates for Four Illicit Drugs Spike During Pandemic. A report published by the specialty laboratory Millennium Health analyzed more than half a million urine drug test results and found large increases in the use of four illicit drugs during the coronavirus pandemic. The lab found a 32.0% increase for non-prescribed fentanyl over the same period last year, a 20.0% increase for methamphetamine, a 10.1% increase for cocaine, and a 12.5% increase for heroin.

International

Colombian Defense Minister Says Aerial Fumigation of Coca Crops to Start Up Again. Colombian Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said Tuesday that the government is advancing plans to restart aerial fumigation of coca crops in accordance with guidelines set out by the country's high court. "We are advancing, we have taken all the steps demanded by the Constitutional Court and we are meeting the requirements of the authorities," he said. "Restarting the spraying program is fundamental. It is in the best interest of the country and it will allow us to continue making progress much more effectively in the fight against the world drug problem," he added, without giving an exact date to restart aerial spraying." Spraying was halted in 2015 over environmental and public health concerns linked the chemical used, glyphosate, to cancer. The Trump administration is pushing Colombia to restart as well.

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Won't Make Ballot, More Mexico Mayhem, More... (7/6/20)

Nevada's governor pushes for wholesale marijuana possession pardons, prohibition-related violence flares in Mexico, and more.

no reefer gladness for Arkansas this year (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Won't Qualify for Ballot. Melissa Fults, the main organizer behind the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment, has announced that the measure failed to come up with enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot by the state's July 3 deadline. "We're not going to make the ballot. COVID-19 killed it," she said. The campaign needed 89,000 valid voter signatures to qualify but had only 30,000-40,000 raw signatures by the deadline.

Nevada Governor Wants Pardons for Old Minor Marijuana Convictions. Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) announced late last week that he has placed a resolution for consideration on the Board of Pardons Commissioners agenda to provide relief to tens of thousands of people who were previously convicted for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The proposed resolution would unconditionally pardon individuals previously convicted of possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, not for purpose of sale. "The people of Nevada have decided that possession of small amounts of marijuana is not a crime," Gov. Sisolak said. "If approved, this resolution will clear the slate for thousands of people who bear the stigma of a conviction for actions that have now been decriminalized."

International

Mexican Soldiers Kill Dozen Cartel Gunmen in Nuevo Laredo Shootout. The Mexican Defense Department reported last Friday that soldiers patrolling the border city of Nuevo Laredo came under fire from gunmen in pickup trucks, then returned fire, killing 12. The department said three army trucks were hit by gunfire but no soldiers were injured. The area has been the site of prohibition-related violence for years, and the feds blamed the attack on the Cartel of the Northeast, a splinter from the old Zetas cartel. Meanwhile, police in the border state of Coahuila reported killing five cartel suspects after being fired on in the city of Torreon, and in Guanajuato state, armed men killed five state police officers and wounded two others.

Nashville to End Small-Time Pot Prosecutions, More Cops Charged in Wake of Fatal Houston Drug Raid, More... (7/2/20)

Drug reform initiative campaigns are handing in signatures as deadlines approach, Nashville's DA says no more petty pot prosecutions, Mexican gunmen kill 24 in a raid on a drug rehab center, and more.

South Dakota's Badlands. Organized opposition to a marijuana legalization initiative has appeared. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Turns in Massive Signature Cache. Backers of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act marijuana legalization initiative filed more than 420,000 raw signatures with the secretary of state's office Thursday. It only needs 237,465 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The initiative would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, allow for cultivation, distribution, and retail sales, and use tax revenues from those sales to fund public education and public safety programs.

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Draws Organized Opposition. The Amendment A marijuana legalization campaign, which has already qualified for the November ballot, is now drawing organized opposition. A ballot committee calling itself NO Way on Amendment A has been organized to defeat the initiative and is being led by David Own, the president of the state Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The opposition is being joined by the usual suspects, including law enforcement, public officials, and social work leaders.

Nashville to End Small-Time Marijuana Possession Prosecutions. Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk announced Wednesday that his office will no longer prosecute cases involving less than a half-ounce of marijuana. "Effective today, the Nashville District Attorney's office will no longer prosecute individuals for possession of less than a half ounce of marijuana. Marijuana charges do little to promote public health, and even less to promote public safety," Funk said in a statement.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, the group behind the state's proposed medical marijuana initiative, handed in some 182,000 raw voter signatures Thursday. They need at least 121,669 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The campaign must also meet a requirement that at least 5% of voters in at least 38 counties sign up.

Law Enforcement

Houston DA Files New Charges Resulting from Deadly Drug Raid. The investigation into a 2019 Houston drug raid that left two innocent homeowners dead has now resulted charges being filed against six former officers, who are accused of routinely using false information to get search warrants and of lying on police reports, prosecutors announced on Wednesday. Two former members of the unit -- Gerald Goines and Steven Bryant -- had previously been charged in state and federal court in the case, including two counts of felony murder filed in state court against Goines. Those two also got hit with numerous new charges. More than 160 drug convictions tied to Goines have been dismissed by prosecutors. Prosecutors expect more cases will be dismissed.

International

Mexican Cartel Gunmen Attack Drug Rehab Center, Killing 24. In one of the bloodiest attacks yet in the cartel wars, gunmen killed 24 people at a drug treatment center in the central Mexican city of Irapuato on Wednesday. It was the second attack on a rehab center in less than a month; on June 6, 10 were killed in a similar incident. Rival cartels sometimes use the centers as de facto bunk houses for their employees. The region is being flailed by fighting between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel.

NYPD Spent Almost $100 Million on Drug Enforcement Last Year, Mexico Cartel Violence, More... (6/26/20)

Mexico City's police chief narrowly escapes a cartel assassination attempt, the NYPD spent nearly $100 million enforcing the drug laws last year, and more.

Prohibition-related violence continues unabated in Mexico. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Michigan House Passes Bill Allowing Spouses of State Employees to Seek Medical Marijuana Licenses. The House has passed HB 5700, which would allow spouses of state employees to obtain licenses for medical marijuana businesses. The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

Drug Policy

NYPD Spent Nearly $100 Million Policing Drug Laws Last Year The New York Policy Department spent $96 million enforcing drug laws last year, according to a new report from the Drug Policy Alliance. It spent nearly another half-billion dollars enforcing low-level "broken windows" offenses, the report found. DPA released the brief in support of the Communities United for Police Reform coalition call for Mayor de Blasio and the NYC Council to cut the FY21 NYPD expense budget by $1 billion and redirect savings to core needs in Black, Latinx and other NYC communities of color that have long been the target of the drug war and racist policing.

Sentencing

Michigan Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Package Filed. In a bid to bring down the length of prison sentences in the state—which run nearly twice as long as in neighboring states—lawmakers have filed a bipartisan package of 15 bills aimed at cutting back sentence lengths.

International

Mexico City Police Chief Wounded in Assassination Attempt, Blames Drug Cartel. Mexico City Public Security Chief Omar Garcia Harfuch barely escaped a brazen daytime assassination attempt in the city's upscale Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood early Friday. Harfuch was struck by three bullets and two of his bodyguards were killed, as was a woman bystander. He later blamed the attack on the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

Mexican Cartel In-Fighting Leaves 15 Dead in Sinaloa. Clashes between gunmen linked to rival factions of the Sinaloa Cartel left 15 people dead in rural communities near the state capital of Culiacan on Wednesday. Seven men clad in body armor and brandishing assault rifles were killed in Tepuche, while eight more armed men were killed in Bagrecitos as they opened fire on homes and vehicles. The violence comes just a week after a convoy of pickup trucks ambushed and attacked navy marines on patrol. The violence is believed linked to a power struggle between the sons of imprisoned leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and forces loyal to Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who has led the cartel since Guzmán’s incarceration. 

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

Colombia After the Peace Accords: A Conversation with Vanda Felbab-Brown [FEATURE]

Four years ago, Colombia's decades-long civil war officially came to an end when the leftist rebels of the FARC signed a peace agreement with then-President Juan Manuel Santos. The accord envisioned the demobilization of the FARC as a military force and the use of alternative development to wean peasant farmers from their coca crops and end the country's reputation as a cocaine capital.

Colombian peasant harvesting the coca crop. (DEA.gov)
Four years on, it is probably unfair to call the peace deal a failure, but it hasn't exactly produced the hoped-for results. President Santos completed his term and was replaced by rightist Ivan Duque, who is much less enthusiastic about the accords and whose administration has lagged at implementing the alternative development provisions of the peace deal.

The FARC did demobilize, but last year, after at least 139 FARC members who had laid down their guns were murdered, dissident FARC leaders announced they were rejoining the path of armed struggle, taking several thousand fighters with them. In taking up arms once again, the FARC dissidents rejoined a vicious, multi-sided fight for control of the cocaine trade that never went away. That fight includes gangs from across the border in Venezuela, rightist paramilitary bandas, two different factions of the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN), the Colombian military, and at least two major Mexican drug cartels, Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation.

Efforts under Duque to cut coca and cocaine production have not worked. With Duque's government only grudgingly supporting crop substitution and rural development programs that are broadly considered more effective, instead promoting forced eradication, Colombian cocaine production hit a record high last year.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration now views Colombia less as a principal ally in the region and more as a chess piece to be used against the Venezuelan regime of Nicholas Maduro. When it comes to the issue of coca and cocaine, the administration has taken a hard line that harkens back to the days of Plan Colombia. This year, Trump has demanded that Columbia resume spraying of coca crops, proposed an assistance package that slashes economic development aid while nearly doubling anti-drug funding, and deployed a US army brigade to Colombia on a drug-fighting mission.

This week, Drug War Chronicle got on the phone with Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow in the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution. She is the co-director of the Brookings series on opioids: "The Opioid Crisis in America: Domestic and International Dimensions." Previously, she was the co-director of the Brookings project, "Improving Global Drug Policy: Comparative Perspectives Beyond UNGASS 2016," as well as of another Brookings project, "Reconstituting Local Orders." Felbab-Brown is an expert on international and internal conflicts and nontraditional security threats, including insurgency, organized crime, urban violence, and illicit economies. Her fieldwork and research have covered, among others, Afghanistan, South Asia, Burma, Indonesia, the Andean region, Mexico, Morocco, Somalia, and eastern Africa. She is a senior advisor to the congressionally mandated Afghanistan Peace Process Study Group.

Here's what she had to say:

On the disappointing results of the 2016 accord:

"The peace deal was significant, but produced incomplete results," said Felbab-Brown. "One reason is that non-state actors persisted. The other reason is that the Duque government doesn't like that deal, so it has a policy of death by a thousand cuts, doing the minimum necessary to appear to comply with the law produced by the peace deal while really doing very little."

"The deal was extremely optimistic both in process and in implementation," she argued, pointing to the example of Thailand, where some 30,000 acres of opium poppies were being grown in the 1960s and even with a highly sustained commitment from the Thai monarchy, it took 30 years to end the practice.

"That's only one-tenth of the issue Colombia struggles with," she noted. "The idea that peace would eliminate coca production was unrealistic, but it was necessary to sell the peace plan to the public. People thought that if there was coca, the fighting would persist. And the need to sell it to the United Nations meant people had to emphasize it as part of alternative development."

"Development was the right policy stress, but it was unhampered by a realistic assessment of how long it would take, how much coca would persist untampered by a realistic assessment of how long it would take and how much coca would persist. A fundamental difficulty for Colombia, among others, is that the resources of the state to do rural development and create alternative livelihoods are quite limited."

"The notion that everyone would be asked to get rid of their coca to go through the compensation process created the mess we are seeing now," she said. "Even if it was not possible to bring in enough resources to accomplish this at the national level, it was worsened by Duque's dislike of the policy and his slowing down of rural development efforts. But it still wasn't going to happen in three years of payments and then no more coca. They've tried that about 20 times before, and it always crashed. There's no reason to believe this would be any different."

On the Trump administration's Colombia policy:

Brookings scholar Vanda Felbab-Brown (Brookings.edu)
"The Trump administration has been back to the 1980s with a rigid, doctrinaire view centered on supply-side policies," she observed. "That said, it has come up with some surprising mutations that you wouldn't expect from a regular Republican administration, as when in 2017 it threatened to decertify Colombia as not living up to US-imposed drug fighting objectives. Republicans were consternated, and so were the Colombians, who expected that Trump would be close to Duque. Trump likes rightist governments and a heavy military emphasis. The administration has been weak dealing with the opioid crisis at home and focused on heavy eradication in Colombia. And Trump has really degraded Colombia. Previous administrations saw it as a principle ally and partner in South America, but Trump views Colombia principally as a platform against Venezuela."

"Trump has two objectives in Colombia: Venezuela and drugs," Felbab-Brown said. "On the drug side, he wants aerial spraying with US contractors. It depends on the day or the month whether drugs or Venezuela is first on the agenda, but Venezuela tends to dominate."

Whether the Trump administration can bend the Colombian government to a deeper role in its anti-Maduro machinations remains to be seen, but that may be a dead end now, anyway, Felbab-Brown said.

"Coca kind of competes with Trump's focus on Colombia as a source of policies against Venezuela, and while Duque is more forward leading in that regard than former president Santos, he realizes he can't risk war or meltdown in Venezuela," she said. "So they've been trying to satisfy Trump without causing a real blowup without any real strategy. After that Guaido stunt with the food aid, both the US and Colombia have been left without any kind of way forward."

On best policies moving forward:

If she were advising the Colombian and US governments, Felbab-Brown said, she would emphasize consolidating the zonas de futuro, where the Duque government is trying to introduce a government presence in five abandoned regions where armed groups and drug trafficking flourish, making up less than three percent of the national territory, instead of worrying about coca eradication.

The "future zones" are Colombia's bid to exert sovereign control over ungoverned parts of its territory. (fupad.org)
"A key line of effort would be to think through how the zonas could be made viable, how best to maximize the policy engagement in the zonas and how to expand them. A key problem with earlier versions of this strategy is that if you succeed, you end up with patches of government presence unconnected to anything else. They need to be made contiguous and connected," she argued.

"I would not care about eradication that much," Felbab-Brown said. "Although it would be unrealistic for a US administration to say that, it could strongly suggest it is not our metric. While Congress can put on pressure for more eradication, I would try to think about where it doesn't cause too much harm to the objective of stabilization. Much of the thinking in both governments is that eradication enhances stability, but it actually hampers it," she said.

"Instead, think about progress in reducing violence in strategic areas. How can we minimize the presence of the bandas, the Venezuelan groups, the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels, both of whom are active in Colombia? How can we neuter them or push them out? This is what I would be thinking."

"At a broader strategic level, I would try to persuade Duque to make a much greater effort in rural development and equity, all that. We'll never make Duque into Santos, but perhaps a better version of himself.

On legalization as a solution:

Felbab-Brown was leery of legalization as a solution.

"It's a fantasy in terms of feasibility," she said. "Who is going to legalize cocaine? Not even Switzerland or the Netherlands would go there. And I'm not persuaded it would address the reasons why Colombia is so violent. If you legalized the coca crop, what is the guarantee that these same actors wouldn't be able to get their hands on the coca fields?" she asked.

"There is also a big fallacy in believing that violent actors have control because the commodities are illegal," she argued. "If anything, the conflict isn't just about coca, but timber, gold, and rare minerals -- all legal commodities. These non-state actors are deeply involved in those economies, the dissident groups are interested in the diversification of their portfolios. In Choco, for instance, where there is some of the most intense fighting, some of it is about coca, but more of it is about control of timber and the port. The FARC dissidents, the bandas, the ELN, Sinaloa and Jalisco, they're all there."

"The issue is not fundamentally about whether the commodity is legal or not. Look at the fighting over avocados in Mexico. You can argue for legalizing marijuana or poppies, but legality or illegality is not the crux of the issue. If Mexico wants to legalize poppies, it needs to fix its collapsed law enforcement first."

[Ed: Our organization's view is that global drug prohibition drives up the value and prices for coca and its derivatives, generating tremendous profits for criminal organizations, which get reinvested in other areas of crime and which contribute to their ability to influence political systems. If it would be impossible to secure licit coca grows in Colombia from being taken over by bad actors, another option would be to establish competing operations in other countries with stronger legal systems, providing coca and its derivatives for less than the crime organizations do. We do recognize that transitions between systems have the potential to go wrong, and we don't expect legalization to solve every problem that's become intertwined with prohbition.]

US Deploys Air Force Planes to Curacao in Anti-Drug Effort, Israel Moves Closer to Pot Legalization, More... (6/22/20)

Georgia Senate Democrats have filed a police reform bill that includes marijuana decriminalization, the US is ramping up anti-drug operations near Venezuela, Israel takes a step toward marijuana legalization, and more.

With a Knesset committee vote, Israel takes another step toward marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Georgia Police Reform Bill Includes Marijuana Decriminalization. Georgia Senate Democrats have filed the Georgia Justice Act, which covers a wide range of issues such as police body cameras, no-knock warrants, racial profiling, demilitarizing law enforcement and cannabis policy reform. It also includes a plank calling for marijuana decriminalization, under which possession of up to a half ounce would be a misdemeanor punishable by only a $300 fine. Under current state law, possession is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Bill Would Require Police to Prove Actual Impairment Before Charging Medical Marijuana Patients With DUI. A Republican state senator, Camera Bartolotta, has filed a bill aimed at protecting medical marijuana patients from being prosecuted for driving under the influence. The bill does so by exempting patients from the state's DUI law, which requires only the presence of marijuana metabolites to garner a DUI ticket. Instead, police would have to prove that the patient driver is actually impaired.

Foreign Policy

US Air Force Deploying Planes to Curacao in Ramped Up Anti-Drug Operation. The US Southern Command announced last Friday that four US Air Force planes will be deployed to Curacao, a Caribbean island nation just 40 miles off the coast of Venezuela, for counter-narcotics operations. An E-3 Sentry surveillance plane and an E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System plane, supported by two KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft, will fly detection and monitoring missions in international airspace, Pentagon officials said. The move is meant to "help U.S. and international law enforcement authorities disrupt and defeat transnational criminal organizations trafficking illegal narcotics in the region," the Southern Command said. The deployment will involve about 200 US personnel at the Cooperative Security Location, a complex used for regional training in counterterrorism and drug interdiction, in Williamstad, Curacao. The move comes several weeks after the Trump administration accused the Venezuelan government of being involved in drug trafficking.

International

Israel Knesset Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bills. The Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday approved a pair of marijuana legalization bills that would legalize marijuana possession and consumption by adults 21 and over. This is only the first step on a process in which the bills must be discussed in committee and then approved at least three times by the full Knesset.

Mexican President Says He Ordered Freeing of El Chapo's Son to Prevent Bloodshed. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador acknowledged last Friday that he personally ordered the release of one of imprisoned Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's sons after he was captured by the military last fall in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa. "I ordered that this operation be stopped and that this presumed criminal be freed," he said, adding that he acted to prevent a slaughter. The capture of Ovidio Guzman Lopez resulted in hours-long gun battles and cartel roadblocks in Culiacan, leaving at least 14 people dead. The violence didn't end until the son was released. “If we hadn’t suspended [the operation] more than 200 innocent people … would have lost their lives,” the president said.

NV Mass Marijuana Pardons, Colombia Cocaine Surge, NJ Pot Decrim Bill Advances, More... (6/18/20)

Fifteen thousand Nevada pot offenders just got automatic pardons, the UN says Colombian potential cocaine production was up last year, Kansas City moves toward pot decriminalization, and more.

Potential Colombian cocaine production was up slightly last year, the UNODC reports. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada Pardons 15,000 People with Marijuana Convictions. Under a resolution from Gov. Steve Sisolak (D), the Board of Pardons Commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved automatic pardons for 15,000 people who had been arrested on marijuana possession charges between January 1986 and January 2017. "Today is an historic day for those who were convicted of what has long been considered a trivial crime, and is now legal under Nevada law," the governor said in a press release. "Since the passage of [adult-use legalization] in 2016 and the decriminalization of possession for small amounts of marijuana, many Nevadans  have had these minor offenses remain on their records, in some cases as a felony. This resolution aims to correct that and fully restore any rights lost as a result of these convictions."

New Jersey Assembly Passes Marijuana Decriminalization Legislation. The Assembly on Thursday easily approved a marijuana decriminalization bill, A1897, by a 63-10 vote. The measure decriminalizes the possession and distribution of up to two ounces of marijuana by adults — making these activities punishable by a $50 fine. Those found to be in violation of the law will no longer be arrested or saddled with a criminal record. A broader decriminalization bill that includes more social justice provisions, S2535, is pending in the Senate. Full marijuana legalization is already on the ballot for November.

Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Rolls Out Decriminalization Ordinance. Mayor Quinton Lucas (D) and at least four city council members introduced a marijuana decriminalization ordinance Thursday. The proposed ordinance would remove the offense of marijuana possession from the city code. "One of the ways we improve police-community relations is by eliminating laws that for too long have led to negative interactions, arrests, convictions, and disproportionate rates of incarceration of Black men and Black women," said Lucas. "Reducing petty offenses – such as municipal marijuana offenses – reduce these negative interactions each day."

International

UNODC Says Colombia's Potential Cocaine Output Increased Slightly Last Year. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Wednesday that potential production of pure cocaine increased 1.5% last year to 1,137 metric tons. The increase in production potential came even as the area under coca cultivation decreased slightly. The increase in productivity is because coca growing is now concentrated in specific areas. The report comes as the Colombian government faces mounting pressure from the US to reduce cocaine exports.

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