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The War on Cocaine Only Strengthens Drug Cartels, Study Finds [FEATURE]

If you've spent nearly a half-century and $250 billion trying to stop the flow of cocaine into the US and the white powder is now cheaper and more plentiful than ever, maybe it's time to rethink. That's the implicit lesson lurking behind a new study on the impact of drug interdiction efforts on drug trafficking organizations.

cocaine interdicted by US Customs (dhs.gov)
Interdiction is the supply side approach to reducing drug use. Rather than reducing demand through education, prevention, and treatment, interdiction seeks to reduce the supply of drugs available domestically by blocking them en route to the US or at the border.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and conducted by scientists from a half-dozen American universities, the study relied on a computer model called NarcoLogic that shows how drug traffickers respond to interdiction strategies and tactics. More sophisticated than previous attempts to simulate the drug trade, NarcoLogic models local- and network-level trafficking dynamics at the same time.

"Our team consists of researchers who worked in different parts of Central America during the 2000s and witnessed a massive surge of drugs into the region that coincided with a reinvigoration of the war on drugs," David Wrathall of Oregon State University's College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences said in a press release announcing the research results. "We asked ourselves: did drug interdiction push drug traffickers into these places?"

The short answer is yes, and that has implications that go far beyond drug policy. The Central American migrants who are at the center of the current "border crisis" are fleeing not only poverty but also high levels of violence generated by the movement of Mexican drug trafficking groups into the region a decade ago as they faced increasing interdiction efforts at home and from US authorities.

In fact, although it is not addressed in this new research, it was earlier interdiction efforts aimed at Colombian cocaine trafficking groups in the 1980s that led directly to the transformation of formerly small-scale Mexican cross-border smuggling organizations into the Frankenstein's monster of drug prohibition that the cartels are today. With the Colombians under intense pressure, Mexican traffickers rose to the occasion and have been making billions of dollars a year ever since.

This despite five decades of US interdiction efforts with an average annual expenditure of $5 billion. Instead of curbing the flow of cocaine into the United States, all that has been accomplished is making the drug trafficking operations more widespread and harder to eradicate. Putting pressure on one route or location simply leads traffickers to scatter and regroup. This is the "balloon effect," where suppressing traffic or production in one area prompts it to pop up elsewhere, and the "cockroach effect," where traffickers simply decentralize their operations.

"Between 1996 and 2017, the Western Hemisphere transit zone grew from 2 million to 7 million square miles, making it more difficult and costly for law enforcement to track and disrupt trafficking networks," Wrathall said. "But as trafficking spread, it triggered a host of smuggling-related collateral damages: violence, corruption, proliferation of weapons, and extensive and rapid environmental destruction."

And for all that effort, the impact on cocaine price and availability has been negligible -- or even perverse.

"Wholesale cocaine prices in the United States have actually dropped significantly since 1980, deaths from cocaine overdose are rising, and counterdrug forces intercept cocaine shipments at a low rate. More cocaine entered the United States in 2015 than in any other year," Wrathall said. "And one thing people who support interdiction and those who don't can agree on is that change is needed. This model can help determine what that change should look like."

The main takeaway from the study is not that drug trafficking became more widespread and resilient because of ineffective interdiction efforts, but because of interdiction itself. The policy aimed at suppressing the drug trade has only made it stronger and wealthier.

"The study is a victory for observation and theory. This model successfully recreates the dynamic our team had observed," Wrathall said. "It tells us that increased interdiction will continue to push traffickers into new areas, spreading networks, and allowing them to continue to move drugs north."

Maybe it is time to try something different.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Chronicle AM: National Pot Poll Hits Record High, Mexican Opium Prices in Free Fall, More.... (3/20/19)

The annual General Social Survey has support for marijuana legalization at an all-time high, a federal marijuana banking bill will get a hearing next week, Mexican opium poppy farmers are getting squeezed hard by fentanyl, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New National Poll Shows Support for Marijuana Legalization Still Rising. A new General Social Survey poll, which has been measuring support for marijuana legalization since the 1970s, has support at 61% this year, up from 57% two years ago and an all-time high for this poll. Support cut across all demographic and political lines, with a majority of Republicans (54%) supporting legalization for the first time. In the first General Social Survey poll in 1973, only 19% of respondents supported legalization.

Federal Marijuana Banking Bill Has Markup Set for Next Week. The House Financial Services Committee will meet next Tuesday for a markup on the Safe Banking Act, HR 1595. The bill aims to remove barriers to access to financial services for the marijuana industry.

Hawaii Decriminalization Bill Nears Final Senate Vote. With favorable votes in two Senate committees Tuesday, HB 1383 now heads for a final Senate floor vote. The bill would decriminalize the possession of up to three grams of marijuana. It has already passed the House.

Rhode Island Senate Committees Hold Joint Hearing on Governor's Marijuana Legalization Proposal. The Senate Finance and Judiciary committees held a joint hearing Tuesday on Article 20 of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposed budget, which features a plan to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for adult use. It also includes amendments to Rhode Island’s existing medical marijuana and hemp laws. The House Finance Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday.

International

Mexican Opium Prices in Freefall in Face of Fentanyl. Farmgate prices for Mexican opium plummeted dramatically last year because of the rise in demand for the synthetic opioid fentanyl about US drug users, according to a study from the Network of Researchers in International Affairs (Noria). They found that the price for opium gum, the raw material for heroin, dropped from just above $1,000 a kilo in 2017 to around $350 a kilo last year. The researchers noted that some farmers had reported rumors of prices going even lower, for a price drop of as much as 80%. The resulting decline in income "is causing a series of various serious secondary economic effects" in poppy-growing communities, Noria said. "Many local peasants are not even making back their investment on the product; many families are losing their sole source of income; the amount of money flowing into the local economy has dried up almost completely; and many are leaving their villages for temporary agricultural work or even to work directly for the cartels," the report said. "The Mexican opium crisis looks like it might ruin the poorest areas of rural Mexico for good."

Chronicle AM: AK Okays Pot Social Consumption, Trump Slashes Drug Czar Budget, More... (3/13/19)

Alaska gives final approval for on-site consumption at pot shops, San Francisco approves pot smoking at events where people like to smoke pot, President Trump ponders designating Mexican cartels as terrorists, South Dakota legislators come up short in a bid to override the veto of a hemp bill, and more.

The drug czar's office is on the budgetary cutting block again.
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Social Consumption Gets Final Approval. Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer (R) Tuesday signed off on new regulations allowing on-site marijuana use in retail pot shops, the final step in approving social consumption in the state. This makes Alaska the first state to approve such use statewide. Consumers can’t bring their own but will have to purchase the pot on-site and consumption areas will have to be ventilated and separated from other parts of the store. The first on-site consumption should come by mid-July, state officials said.

New York Black Lawmakers Won’t Vote for Legalization Without Racial Equity. Black lawmakers are demanding that racial equity provisions be written into any legalization bill or they won’t vote for it. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) mentioned racial injustice in pot law enforcement in calling for legalization, but lawmakers representing minority communities say his proposal doesn’t go far enough in addressing how racial inequities would be repaired.

San Francisco to Allow Pot Smoking at Events Where People Like to Smoke Pot. Seems like common sense. The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to create a special permit to allow people to sell and smoke marijuana at public events that have traditionally seen a lot of pot smoking, such as the 4/20 celebration on Hippie Hill and the Outside Lands music festival, both in Golden Gate Park. The ordinance gives the Office of Cannabis the authority to grant temporary waivers to the city’s tough no-smoking laws.

Hemp

South Dakota Lawmakers Fall Short on Bid to Override Hemp Bill Veto. After Gov. Kristi Noem (R) vetoed a bill to legalize industrial hemp production over the weekend, lawmakers sought to override the veto. In votes Tuesday, the House supported the override on a 55-11 vote, but the Senate came up short, voting 20-13 to override when it needed 24 votes to be successful.

Drug Policy

Trump’s Drug Budget Again Slashes Funding for Drug Czar’s Office. For the second year in a row, the White House’s proposed drug budget for Fiscal Year 2020 virtually zeroes out funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar’s office). Congress restored the funding for ONDCP last year, allotting it slightly more than $120 million, about the same as the previous year. But this year’s proposed budget allocates only $14.9 million.

Foreign Policy

Trump Thinking “Very Seriously” About Designating Mexican Drug Cartels as Terrorists. In an interview published Tuesday in Breitbart News, President Trump is thinking “very seriously” about designating Mexican drug cartels as terrorists. "We are. We are," Trump said. "We're thinking about doing it very seriously. In fact, we've been thinking about it for a long time. . . . As terrorists - as terrorist organizations, the answer is yes. They are."

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Senate Approves Good Samaritan Expansion Bill. The Senate on Tuesday approved a bill, SB 106, that would clarify the state’s 2013 Good Samaritan law to specify that the people who actually suffer drug overdoses have the same legal immunity from criminal charges as the people who call for help. The bill now heads to the House.

Chronicle AM: NM Legal Pot Bill Advances, House Dems Slam Trump Drug Policies, More... (3/11/19)

Another Democratic presidential contender gets behind a federal marijuana legalization bill, pot legalization is moving in New Mexico but faces a ticking clock, the Florida smokable medical marijuana bill advances, and more.

The Land of Enchantment is on the verge of becoming even more enchanting. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, Don Young File Bill to End Federal Pot Prohibition. Democratic presidential contender Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) has partnered with Rep. Don Young (R-AK) to file a bill to remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances. The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act would leave marijuana policy to the states. The bipartisan pair of legislators also filed the Marijuana Data Collection Act, which would evaluate the effects of marijuana legalization in states that have already legalized it. Neither of the bills is yet available on the congressional website.

Hawaii House Approves Decriminalization Bill. The House last Thursday passed HB 1383, which would decriminalize the possession of up to three grams of weed. Under current state law, possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail. The bill would also expunge criminal convictions for people caught with less than three grams in the past. It now goes to the Senate.

New Mexico House Approves Legalization Bill. The House voted last Thursday to approve HB 356, which would legalize marijuana for adults and set up a system of taxed and regulated production and sales. The bill now heads to the Senate, where progress is possible but faces a ticking clock. The session ends on Thursday.

New Mexico Senate Committee Approves Legalization Bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Saturday approved SB 577, the companion bill to the legalization bill approved by the House. The bill must still get through two more committees and a floor vote by Thursday to pass because the session ends then.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Senate Approves Bill Allowing Smokable Medical Marijuana. The Senate last Thursday overwhelmingly approved SB 182, which would repeal the legislature's ban on smokable medical marijuana. The effort is being pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has vowed to act if the legislature fails to. The measure now goes to the House, which must approve it by Friday or DeSantis will drop the state's appeal of a lower court ruling ending the ban.

Drug Policy

House Democrats Blast Trump Administration's Lack of National Drug Control Strategy. Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee blasted the Trump administration for failing to release a drug control strategy in either 2017 or 2018, even as the nation battled the opioid crisis. "It is absolutely inexcusable that the administration did not bother to issue a National Drug Control Strategy during the first two years that he was in office," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). "More than 70,000 Americans have died from drug overdoses in 2017 alone," she said. "As many as 140,000 Americans have died from overdoses in the first two years of the Trump administration."

Drug Testing

Alabama Bill Would Require Drug Testing for Food Stamps. Rep. James Haynes (R-District 23) has filed HB 3, which would require applicants for food stamps to be screened for possible drug use and subjected to pre-approval drug testing if there is a "reasonable suspicion that the person uses or is under the influence of a drug." That reasonable suspicion would include having a drug conviction within the previous five years. A first failed test would result in a warning a re-test. A failed second test would result in temporary ineligibility for food stamps. A third failed drug test would result in permanent ineligibility. The bill is currently before the House Judiciary Committee.

International

Colombia's Rightist President Wants to Return to Aerial Spraying of Coca Crops. President Ivan Duque has asked the country's Constitutional Court to ease restrictions on spraying coca crops with glyphosate, a weed killer that has been linked to cancer. Former President Juan Manuel Santos banned the use of glyphosate to destroy illegal crops after the World Health Organization classified it as a likely carcinogen. But Duque says that expanding coca production has consequences to significant for the country for the government to limit the tools it has available to fight the crop.

(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.)

Chronicle AM: Beto, Bernie Talk Criminal Justice Reform; FDA Oks Ketamine for Depression, More... (3/6/19)

Democratic presidential contenders begin staking out criminal justice reform positions, yet another poll has a national majority for marijuana legalization, the FDA approves ketamine for depression, and more.

Bernie Sanders talks criminal justice reform, but he's not the only Democratic doing so. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Quinnipiac Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday has support for marijuana legalization at 60% nationwide, with only 33% opposed. An even larger number of respondents (63%) said old marijuana arrest records should be expunged.

Texas Decriminalization Bill Gets Hearing. The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee held a hearing Monday on House Bill 63, which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) has been pushing the issue since 2015. No vote was taken.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia House Approves CBD Access Bill. The House on Tuesday approved HB 324, which would allow for the sale of CBD cannabis oil to patients through dispensaries. The state legalized CBD cannabis oil for medicinal use in 2015, but there is no legal way to buy, sell, or obtain it. This bill would fix that. It now heads to the Senate.

Hawaii Will Allow Out of State Patients to Obtain Medical Marijuana. As of Tuesday, people with medical marijuana recommendations from other states are able to purchase medical marijuana while in the state. Officials said the change will ensure that visitors and part-time residents can get their medicine.

New Mexico Temporarily Boosts Plant Limits for Producers. The state health department issued an emergency rule last Friday to temporarily boost the number of plants producers can grow. The rule lifts the maximum from 450 plants to 2,500 plants through the end of August. The department will initiate a rule-making process to determine what the final plant count should be. The move comes amidst concerns over lack of supply.

Ketamine

FDA Approves Ketamine for Depression. The Food and Drug Administration approved a prescription treatment for depression that is derived from ketamine. The new treatment, called esketamine, is a nasal spray developed by Janssen Pharmaceuticals and will be sold under the brand name Spravato. The approval comes even as the FDA acknowledges that ketamine's anti-depressant properties are not well understood. Ketamine is an old anesthetic but has also been used as the club drug Special K in recent years.

Drug Policy

Beto O'Rourke Calls for Broad Drug, Criminal Justice Reforms. The Democratic presidential contender called for marijuana legalization and a "criminal justice system that is more fair and that urgently puts our country closer to the words written above the highest court in our land: equal justice under law" in an email to supporters this week. He also lambasted "the new Jim Crow" and the "school to prison pipeline," he said disproportionately targeted black children. He also called for an end to cash bail and the use of private prisons.

Bernie Sanders Calls for an End to the War on Drugs. In campaign rallies last weekend in Brooklyn and Chicago, the Vermont senator called for legalizing marijuana and ending the war on drugs, while calling for the need to address racial disparities in the emerging legal marijuana industry. "No more war on drugs that has destroyed so many lives," Sanders. "When we talk about criminal justice reform, we are going to change a system in which tens of thousands of Americans every year get criminal records for possessing marijuana, but not one major Wall Street executive went to jail for destroying our economy in 2008," he said. "No, they didn't go to jail, they got a trillion dollar bailout."

International

Colombia Coca Farmers Clash with Police. Farmers in Cordoba province's Alto Sinu region who are returning to coca cultivation after two years of waiting for economic and security assistance that never arrived clashed with riot police as they protested the national government's failure to support the shift to substitute crops. They said they had been left no choice but to go back to coca. Coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia has reached an all-time high, having risen to 171,000 hectares in 2017 from 48,000 in 2013.

(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.)

Trump's Bombing Campaign Against Taliban Heroin Labs Quietly Fizzles [FEATURE]

A year-long bombing campaign that pitted some of America's most high-tech Air Force fighter jets against primitive Taliban "heroin labs" has quietly ended after failing to achieve much of anything, according to the latest report on continuing US operations in Afghanistan from the Defense Department's inspector general.

The campaign, dubbed Operation Iron Tempest, was only the latest iteration of America's endless and fruitless effort to suppress the country's opium economy, which has delivered hundreds of millions of dollars a year into the hands of the Taliban and corrupt Afghan officials alike. Since the U.S. invaded in 2001, American taxpayers have forked out nearly $9 billion to fight Afghan opium, yet Afghanistan continues to produce the vast majority -- about 85 percent -- of the global opium supply.

Despite all those counter-narcotics dollars, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported opium production at record highs in the last years, with more than 6,400 tons of raw opium produced last year. Iron Tempest didn't make much of a dent in it.

As part of the Trump administration's bid to look tough against both drugs and the Taliban, Iron Tempest was unleashed in November 2017 with F-22 stealth fighters and B-52 strategic bombers deploying 250- and 500-pound bombs against nondescript buildings in the Afghan hinterlands. Those F-22s, designed to be deployed against the most advanced aircraft in the world, cost $35,000 per flight hour, and they were used to blow up the barrels, tubes, and piles of raw material that constitute Afghan "heroin labs."

But hundreds of air strikes against what U.S. commanders estimated were 500 "heroin labs" operated by the Taliban failed to put a serious dent in the trade. In fact, they probably hurt Afghan security and political figures involved in the opium trade more than they hurt the Taliban.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported in January that while the air strikes had deprived the Taliban of an estimated $42 million (out of its estimated annual take from the opium trade of $200 million), while unspecified others "involved in the illegal drug trade in Afghanistan" lost $200 million. (The estimated value of the opium crop alone is above $1 billion a year when prices are high; but additional profits come from taxes on the trade and the value added by processing the raw opium into more profitable heroin.)

But the numbers on the economic pain caused the Taliban are iffy, SIGAR conceded. It was difficult to weigh the actual financial impact because "no ground verification takes place to weigh and assess the amounts of the precursors or products actually destroyed by an airstrike."

SIGAR didn't mince words in its assessment of overall Afghan and U.S. counter-narcotics performance: "To put it bluntly," the watchdog said, "these numbers spell failure."

That same January SIGAR report quietly noted the end of Iron Tempest. As evidence mounted that the campaign was ineffective, the number of air raids dwindled. In the last three months of 2018, only two air strikes took place, marking the end of the campaign. Operation Iron Tempest had gone out not with a bang, but with a whimper.

That could be the epitaph for the entire American adventure in Afghanistan. After nearly two decades of invasion and occupation, Trump administration officials are now engaged in direct peace talks with the Taliban that could lead to Afghan coalition government including the Taliban and the final withdrawal of American forces.

Chronicle AM: CND Delays Vote on Pot Rescheduling, RI Drug Defelonization Push, More...(2/26/19)

San Francisco moves to expunge more than 9,000 pot convictions, Rhode Island's attorney general wants to defelonize drug possession, Peruvian farmers are leaving the coffee fields for the coca fields, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Baltimore Mayor Pressed to End Marijuana Arrests. Fourteen local advocacy groups have sent a letter to Mayor Catherine Pugh urging her to direct the police commissioner to stop arresting people for small-time pot offenses. The letter comes after Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced a new policy of not prosecuting such cases, only to have interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle, a former DEA agent, refused to order police to stop making the arrests. Tuggle is gone now, but it's unclear what his replacement, Michael Harrison, will do, thus the letter to the mayor urging her to lead on the issue.

San Francisco Will Expunge More Than 9,000 Marijuana Convictions. City prosecutors announced Monday that they would move to expunge some 9,300 marijuana possession convictions dating back to 1976. The move comes after a yearlong review of pot convictions in the city. The effort was bolstered by the city's decision to work with a Code for America, a nonprofit that uses technology to make government more efficient. Coders created an algorithm that combed through the city's decades worth of criminal records in minutes—and automatically filled out the required forms to be turned in during the expungement process.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Publishes First Draft Medical Marijuana Rules. The state Department of Health and Human Services has posted its first draft rules for the state medical marijuana system approved by voters in November 2018. The first batch of draft rules deals with requirements for ID cards for the program. There will be public hearings before the rules are finalized. The state has until June 4 to begin taking applications for ID cards.

Treatment

West Virginia House Approves Drug Treatment Bills. The House on Monday passed two bills related to drug treatment and amended a third. HB 3132 exempts certain providers from some of the medication-assisted treatment licensing requirements. HB 3133 would mandate that probationers with history or symptoms of addiction to attend support services for at least 60 days. The bill that was amended was HB 2991, which authorizes the continuation of an addiction prevention and recovery fund. That bill requires any proceeds from settlements with drug manufacturers or distributors to go into the fund; the amendment would allow state agencies to recover reasonable administrative costs.

Sentencing

Rhode Island Attorney General Plans Bill to Defelonize Drug Possession. State Attorney General Peter Neronha has announced plans to introduce legislation that would make possession of up to an ounce of any drug other than marijuana a misdemeanor. "There is a significant difference between those who traffic in drugs and those who possess them," explained Neronha at a press conference at the attorney general’s office in Cranston. "I learned how difficult it is for somebody getting out of prison, or somebody with a felony conviction to get back into the workforce. To get housing. To get back on their feet," he said.

International

UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs Delays Vote on WHO Marijuana Rescheduling Recommendation. The Commission on Narcotic Drugs will not vote on the World Health Organization's marijuana recommendations during its March session in Vienna That news comes after the release of the recommendations, which had been expected in December, was delayed. Several counties asked for more time to consider the recommendations saying they only received the rescheduling recommendation in late January. If the recommendations had come out in time, countries would have had three months to study them before the Vienna meeting.

Peru Farmers Are Abandoning Coffee Crops to Work in Coca Fields. Slumping coffee prices and delays in certifying organic beans are pushing Peruvian coffee growers out of the business and into the coca fields, the country's main coffee growers' association said Monday The Junta Nacional del Café said farmers started migrating to coca growing regions in December and hundreds have since abandoned their coffee fields. "Coffee ... exports are in real trouble, and we lack the support of the government with clear actions to overcome them," said the JNC’s head, Tomas Cordova. "This foments poverty, unemployment and the expansion of illegal crops."

Chronicle AM: FL Bill Would End Mandatory Minimums, BC Plan for Heroin Buyers Clubs, More... (2/22/19)

The Philippines president vows even harsher drug war, the Mexican Senate approves a new national guard to fight drug crime, a Florida bill would end mandatory minimum drug sentences, and more.

Pharmaceutical heroin. Could it be coming to heroin buyers clubs in Vancouver? (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Regulatory Bill Advances. The House Rules Committee voted Thursday to advance HB 2612, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act. The bill sets up an extensive medical marijuana framework and is moving with bipartisan support.

Asset Forfeiture

Missouri Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture Advances. The House Judiciary Committee has approved  HB 444, which would bar law enforcement from confiscating assets from someone unless and until that person is convicted of a criminal offense. The bill now heads to the House floor.

Sentencing

Florida Criminal Justice Reform Bill Would End Mandatory Minimums. A sweeping criminal justice reform bill that includes ending mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses has been introduced in the Senate. SB 642, the Florida First Step Act must get past the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Criminal Justice Committee before heading for a Senate floor vote.

International

British Columbia Plan for "Heroin Buyers Club" Unveiled. The BC Center of Substance Abuse Thursday unveiled a plan to create a heroin buyers club to sell pure, regulated heroin to people addicted to opioids.  The cooperative group would buy bulk medical grade heroin from Switzerland to sell to doctor-assessed club members. The plan is part of the effort to stem overdoses in Vancouver. Informal heroin buyers clubs are reportedly already operating in the city, but their supplies are iffy.

Mexican Senate Approves Plan for New National Guard to Fight Crime, Drugs. The Senate on Thursday approved President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s plan to create a new national guard, a key part of the government’s strategy to address drug gang violence. But the Senate amended the legislation to ensure that the new security force is headed by civilians, not the military, which has been linked to numerous human rights violations.

Philippines President Vows "Harsher" Drug War in Coming Days. President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to ramp up his bloody anti-drug campaign in a speech Wednesday. The war on drugs will be "harsher in the days to come," he said. When asked by reporters if the crackdown would be even bloodier, he said: "I think so." The remarks were condemned by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights: "With thousands that have already been killed because of this campaign, ‘harsh’ is an understatement and a trivialization of the lives that were lost—it is irreversible and the suffering of families of victims can be lifelong," Jacqueline De Guia, CHR spokesperson, said. "To say that it will be ‘harsher’ insults the victims and their families while the drug trade has not seemingly waned."

Thai King Signs Decree Legalizing Medical Marijuana and Kratom. Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn has signed a royal decree formalizing the legalization of medical marijuana and kratom. The move comes some two months after the military government’s parliament unanimously approved it. 

Chronicle AM: FBI to Investigate Fatal Houston Drug Raid, NH Legal Pot Bill Advances, More... (2/21/19)

The fallout from that fatal January Houston drug raid continues, a New Hampshire pot legalization bill advances, so does a Florida bill to allow smokable medical marijuana, and more.

This could be legal soon in New Hampshire if that marijuana legalization bill keeps moving. (IRIN)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Governor Uses Budget Address to Call for Legalization. As he unveiled his first annual budget Wednesday, Gov. J,B. Pritzker called for marijuana legalization and taxation to help pay for $1.1 billion in new spending. He also called for the legalization and taxation of sports betting, as well as raising money with new taxes on plastic bags, e-cigs, and raising the cigarette tax.

New Hampshire Legalization Bill Narrowly Wins House Committee Vote. The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 10-9 to recommend passage of HB 481, which would legalize up to an ounce for adults and create a system of taxed and regulated sales. Adults could also grow up to six plants. The narrow margin of victory in committee suggests a tough fight to pass it on the House floor.

North Dakota Decriminalization Bill Narrowly Defeated. A bill that would have decriminalized the possession of up to ounce was defeated on a 47-43 vote in the House Wednesday. HB 1155’s defeat means legalization proponents in the state will gear up for a legalization initiative next year.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona House Committee Approves Bill to Protect Edibles, Extracts. The House Committee on Public Safety voted 5-2 Wednesday to approve HB 2149. The measure would specify that the 2010 voter-approved medical marijuana law also includes any products made from its resins. In a case pending before state courts, the state has argued that edibles and hashish are not included in the law.

Florida Bill to Allow Smokable Medical Marijuana Heads for Senate Floor Vote. The Senate Rules Committee voted Wednesday to approve SB 182, which would end the state’s ban on smokable medical marijuana. That means the measure will head for a Senate floor vote weeks ahead of a March 15 deadline set by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has threatened litigation if the legislature doesn’t act.

Michigan Appeals Court Rules Against Worker Not Hired for Medical Marijuana Use. The state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday against a woman who had a job offer rescinded because she tested positive for marijuana—even though she had a medical marijuana card. The ruling is a boon for employers who apply zero-tolerance substance abuse policies.

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota House Approves Civil Asset Forfeiture Bill. The House on Wednesday approved a civil asset forfeiture reform bill on a 57-33 vote. HB 1286 would not end civil asset forfeiture, but would raise the standard of proof from "a preponderance" of the evidence to "clear and compelling evidence." It would also require a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture could proceed. The bill now goes to the Senate, which defeated similar legislation in 2017.

Law Enforcement

Two House Republicans Urge State Department to Label Cartels as Terrorist Organizations. A pair of conservative House Republicans, Reps. Mark Green (TN) and Chip Roy (TX), sent a letter Wednesday to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking the State Department to label drug cartels as terrorist organizations. The proposal would "further stigmatize these groups both at home and abroad," the pair wrote. "These cartels have utilized barbaric tactics including those adopted by [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] ISIS and al Qaeda – murdering and torturing innocents, destabilizing countries and assassinating members of law enforcement," Green added in a statement. Drug cartels differ from terrorist organizations, though, in that they have no political agenda (other than being left alone to go about their business), a key component of the definition of terrorism.

FBI Opens Civil Rights Investigation into Deadly Houston Drug Raid. The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into a January drug raid in Houston that left two people dead and five police officers wounded. The raid was based on falsified search warrant affidavits claiming informants had bought heroin at the house, but the homeowners, who were killed, possessed no heroin at all—only small, personal use amounts of marijuana and possibly cocaine. The fallout from the case has already resulted in one officer being suspended, an end to no-knock raids in the city, and the review of more than 1,400 cases linked to the lying officer. 

Chronicle AM: VT Legal Pot Sales Bill Advances, ID Gov. Signs Naloxone Access Bill, More... (2/15/19)

A marijuana sales bill is moving in Vermont, a bill to have state-run pot shops is filed in New Mexico, Idaho's governor signs a naloxone access expansion bill, the Sinaloa Cartel lives, and more.

Even in Idaho, there's a need for naloxone. Now, access to the opioid overdose reversal drug is expanded. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Legal Marijuana Sales Bill Advances. A bill that would set up a system of taxed and regulated legal marijuana commerce in the state has passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 4-1 vote. SB 54  would establish a Cannabis Control Board to issue licenses for cannabis manufacturers, retailers and testing facilities. Sales would be taxed at 10 percent, and local municipalities would have the option of imposing an additional two percent tax. The bill now heads to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, which must approve it before it goes to the Senate floor.

New Mexico GOP Senator's Marijuana Legalization Bill Would Feature State-Run Pot Shops. Sen. Mark Moores (R-Albuquerque) and three cosponsors filed SB 577 Thursday. Like another bill already filed, the measure would legalize marijuana in the state but would have the state operate retail marijuana shops. The measure is currently before the Senate Public Affairs Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Bill Would Let Dispensaries Sell CBD Cannabis Oil. A bill filed Thursday would fix the state's CBD cannabis oil law so that patients could actually obtain the drug. Under current state law, patients can use and possess it, but have no legal means of obtaining it. HB 324 would allow for the sale of CBD cannabis oil to patients through dispensaries.  

Missouri Expungement Bill for Patients Advances. A bill that would let registered medical marijuana patients have their misdemeanor marijuana offenses expunged has been approved by the House Committee on Criminal Justice in a 7-2 vote. The measure, HB 341, has support in both chambers of the legislature and it is believed Gov. Mike Parsons (R) would sign it.

Harm Reduction

Idaho Governor Signs Expansive Naloxone Access Bill into Law. Gov. Brad Little (R) has signed into law HB 12, which expands access to the opioid overdose reversal drug in the state. It will go into effect on July 1.

International

El Chapo May Be Gone, But the Sinaloa Cartel Carries On. Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman may be buried deep in the federal prison system, but the Sinaloa Cartel is still in business—and business is booming. The cartel, now under the leadership of second-in-command Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, continues to make massive drug shipments to the US, as recent huge, multi-drug busts at the border attest. "It’s still a major, major force in the Mexican criminal underworld," Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope said. It still controls worldwide contacts that can ship Colombian cocaine around the world and import precursor drugs into Mexico to be cooked up and exported north. Zambada has overcome a succession fight after El Chapo's arrest and is now firmly in control. 

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