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Look Who's Got the Antidote to Trump's Prescription for Global Drug War [FEATURE]

Even as US President Donald Trump was using the meeting Monday of the United Nations General Assembly to try to create a hardline global drug policy coalition, a group that includes a dozen former heads of state from countries around the planet issued a report urging governments to embrace alternatives to a "failed" repressive drug war. Instead, the group argued, countries should begin to try to implement regulated markets for illicit substances.

While Trump spoke in New York City, the Global Commission on Drug POLICY unveiled its report, Regulation: The Responsible Control of Drugs, with a press conference in Mexico City, capital of a nation frequently scapegoated by Trump for America's drug crises, but which in reality has suffered mightily from the demons unleashed by drug prohibition. The county's death toll in a decade of heightened prohibition-related cartel and government violence now exceeds 200,000 -- the kind of figure associated more with festering civil wars than with law enforcement problems.

One of Mexico's former presidents, Ernesto Zedillo, is a member of the commission, established in 2011 by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, along with former presidents and prime ministers of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, East Timor, Greece, Malawi, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal, and Switzerland. The group also includes notable global figures, such as Richard Branson and Mario Vargas Llosa, as well as American political names such as former Secretary of State George Schultz and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

"A demand for drugs exists, and if it is not satisfied through legal ways, then it will be satisfied by the illegal market," said commission chair former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, "Prohibition has allowed criminal organizations to control the whole chain of drugs. Every region in the world suffers from violence induced by turf wars over production areas and transit routes, from corruption and connivance of state institutions, and from the laundering of drug money, which damages the legal economy and the functioning of democratic institutions."

In the report, the commission calls on policymakers to open local and national participatory processes to shape the reforms and collect evidence on the legal regulation of drugs. That's something incoming Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has already begun with his town hall meetings on violence and his proposal of amnesty for non-violent traffickers and drug crop farmers.

"This report provides a coherent account of what the legal regulation of drugs can look like in a real-life context, based on scientific evidence and current regulatory frameworks for legal substances," said Dreifuss. "It draws particular attention to the risks associated with over-commercialization and the need to learn from mistakes in regulating alcohol, tobacco and prescription opioids."

The global leaders also call for the renegotiation of the international treaties that form the legal backbone of global drug prohibition. Not only do they encourage a repressive approach to the drug question where drug users and low-level dealers face stiff prison sentences, they are also increasingly out of touch with social and political realities. Uruguay, Canada, and nine American states have legalized marijuana in contravention of the treaties, and Bolivia does not acknowledge coca's inclusion in their drug schedules.

"The international drug control system has failed to achieve its own objectives in terms of the supply in and demand for drugs," said former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. "It needs to adapt quickly to the reality that an increasing number of states are calling for or have implemented reforms which are incompatible with the framework it established. The gap which has developed between the expectations created by that framework and the reality on the ground needs to be faced up to. A new system is urgently needed which will support countries to implement effective drug policies."

American drug reformers applauded the commission's call for a new approach.

"The war on drugs has been an abject failure that has had devastating consequences throughout the world," said Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "Amidst this backdrop, it is heartening to see experienced world leaders boldly step forward with innovative, forward-looking proposals that are grounded in human rights, health, and development."

In a world where Donald Trump's drug war photo-op at the UN gets the press, it's easy to forget that when it comes to drug policy, the global prohibitionist consensus has already crumbled. The commission's report is a salutary reminder that better ways exist -- if we can muster the political muscle to implement them.

[Disclosure: Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of the organization that publishes this newsletter.]

Chronicle AM: Bad Drug Bill Dropped From Fed Opioid Package, Acapulco Cops Disarmed, More... (9/26/18)

A bad provision gets stripped out of the congressional opioid package, a Pennsylvania legislator files a legalization bill, Mexican Marines disarm Acapulco cops, and more.

The Mexican military disarms all the cops in Acapulco amidst allegations of drug gang links. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania State Rep Files Bill to Legalize Marijuana. State Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) has introduced a bill to legalize marijuana for adults and expunge the records of people convicted of past pot-related crimes. "My bill would immediately release people jailed for crimes associated with cannabis," Wheatley said in a news release. "Those who have criminal histories related to cannabis would be expunged, and professional and driver's licenses that were revoked or suspended due to cannabis-related crimes would be reinstated. For far too long, the criminal justice system has unfairly punished Pennsylvanians, especially minorities, who are caught with cannabis." The bill also would create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. It's not yet available on the legislative website.

Drug Policy

Damaging Drug War Provision Excluded From Congressional Opioid Package. Late last night, the final text for the Congressional opioid package was released. SITSA, a sweeping bill expanding penalties on synthetic drugs and the broader war on drugs -- passed the House in July, and was expected to be included in the final bill. But a coalition of drug policy and criminal justice reform groups managed to push back against its inclusion, successfully keeping it out of the bill. "This is a huge win for public health over outdated drug war approaches," said Michael Collins of the Drug Policy Alliance's national office. "The bill would have expanded mass incarceration, while worsening the overdose crisis. It would have given Jeff Sessions unprecedented powers to schedule drugs and set draconian new criminal penalties. To pull this back from the brink after it easily passed the House only two months ago is a tremendous victory."

Pennsylvania Supreme Court to Decide Whether Maternal Drug Use Equals Child Abuse. The state's highest court on Tuesday began weighing whether women who abuse drugs during their pregnancies can be punished under state law as child abusers. The court has never addressed the matter, which is again igniting debate as the opioid crisis spawns a new generation of babies born dependent on their mothers' drugs. The justices heard oral arguments in the case of a woman who gave birth in January 2017 to a child who spent 19 days in the hospital being treated for drug withdrawal. The woman had tested positive for marijuana, opioids, and anxiety drugs. The child was taken into custody by Children and Youth Services, and the mother was charged with child abuse.

New Psychoactive Substances

DC Mayor Backs Bill Penalizing Dealers of Synthetic Cannabinoids. Mayor Muriel Bowser has proposed emergency legislation to go after dealers in synthetic cannabinoids as the District suffers from a spike in "fake weed" overdoses. "This is not marijuana," Bowser said at a Tuesday news conference. "The effects are very different, and they can be deadly." The city already prohibits the sale of synthetic drugs, but this bill would expand that ban.

International

Mexican Marines Disarm Entire Acapulco Police Force Over Links to Drug Gangs. Authorities in the state of Guerrero disarmed and placed under investigation the entire police force of Acapulco, the state's largest city, claiming the local police were infiltrated by drug gangs. Two top Acapulco police commanders were also charged with homicide. Last year, Acapulco had a murder rate of 103 per 100,000 residents, one of the highest in the world.

Venezuela Calls on Colombia to Take Action on Drug Trafficking. The Foreign Ministry called Tuesday for its eastern neighbor to "assume international responsibilities for the damage caused by the drug trafficking industry." Caracas wants Bogota to redouble its anti-trafficking efforts in light of the "alarming increase" in coca cultivation in Colombia reported by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime last week. "For the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, it is even more worrisome that, according to said report, one of the most affected departments is precisely the north of Santander, bordering Venezuela, from where groups of drug trafficking and paramilitary violence are constantly attacking the population, the economy, and Venezuelan institutions. Venezuela urges the Colombian authorities to make sincere and effective efforts to assume international responsibilities for the damage caused by the drug trafficking industry to neighboring countries and the world," the ministry said.

[Disclosure: Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of the organization that publishes this newsletter.]

Chronicle AM: Coalition to Fight House "Drug War" Provision, Colombia Coca Crop at Record High, More... (9/20/18)

A provision in the House opioid bill that would let the attorney general set sentences for synthetic drug offenses generates opposition, Colombia's coca production was at record levels last year, the DEA has okayed the import of Canadian marijuana for research purposes, and more.

Colombia peasand farmer in his coca field. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Governor Calls for Sheriff's Resignation After Racist Weed Comments. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is calling for the resignation of Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino after a tape emerged of him making racist comments about black people around the topic of marijuana legalization. Although Saudino's remarks were made back in January just after Murphy's inauguration, a recording of them just went public on Wednesday. Here's what he said, referencing Murphy's inaugural address: "He talked about the whole thing, the marijuana, sanctuary state…better criminal justice reform. Christ almighty, in other words, let the blacks come in, do whatever the fuck they want, smoke their marijuana, do this do that, and don’t worry about it," Saudino said. "You know, we’ll tie the hands of cops."

Medical Marijuana

DEA Gives Green Light for Canadian Company to Import Research Marijuana to US. The DEA has granted permission to Canadian marijuana producer Tilray, Inc. to export medical marijuana to California for scientific research purposes. The Food and Drug Administration also signed off on the deal. The marijuana is headed for Dr. Fatta Nahab, an associate professor of neuroscience at the University of California San Diego medical school.

Drug Policy

Left-Right Coalition Builds to Block House Opioids Bill's "Drug War" Provision. As the House and Senate seek to reconcile their versions of bills to address the nation's opioid crisis, groups on the left and right are uniting behind an effort to undo an especially egregious provision in the House version of the bill. Organizations such as the ACLU and Human Rights Watch are joining forces with right-leaning groups like FreedomWorks and the American Conservative Union to remove language that would give the attorney general the power to create a special category for synthetic drugs such as fentanyl and set penalties for those who make or sell them. That would essentially put sentencing policy for those drugs in the hands of the attorney general. "We don’t want any attorney general to have this kind of power," said Jasmine Tyler, advocacy director for the Human Rights Watch US Program. "But I think specifically when we have an attorney general who is so out of touch with this century’s expert thinking on these issues, there should be red flags for that."

International

UNODC Says Colombian Coca Cultivation at All-Time High. The amount of acreage devoted to coca growing in Colombia increased 17% last year to hit a new record high, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime said Wednesday. Some 423,000 acres were under cultivation last year, UNODC said, the largest figure since the UN began keeping records. That will produce more than 920 metric tons of cocaine, a US government report earlier this year said. The figures come as new conservative Colombian President Ivan Duque prepares to attack the drug trade, likely including aerial fumigation of crops with glyphosate. "Our goal in the next four years is to have concrete results," he said Wednesday. "So we can at least eradicate more than 70 percent of what we have today."

Chronicle AM: Utah MedMJ Poll, OK Sentencing Report, Colombia Pot Crackdown, More... (9/7/18)

A new Utah poll has the medical marijuana initiative still doing well, Los Angeles cracks down on illicit pot shops, the US and Ecuador renew cooperation in anti-drug air operations, Bolivia's Evo faces problems, and more.

Bolivian President Evo Morales is getting opposition from a group that should constitute his base: coca farmers. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Los Angeles Arrests More Than 500 in Crackdown on Illicit Pot Shops. A crackdown on unlicensed marijuana businesses in the city has ended with more than 500 people arrested on misdemeanor charges, the city attorney's office said. The charges come in 120 separate criminal cases filed in connection with 105 unlicensed businesses. The defendants are charged with unlicensed commercial cannabis activity within the city, which carries a potential sentence of six months in jail and $1,000 in fines. There are 165 licensed pot shops and delivery services in the city, but many shops persist in selling without a license.

Medical Marijuana

New Utah Poll Shows Continuing Support for Medical Marijuana Initiative. Despite the Church of Latter Day Saints coming out against the Proposition 2 medical marijuana initiative, support for the measure remains strong, a new poll finds. The poll had 64% either "somewhat" or "strongly" in support of the measure.

Foreign Policy

Ecuador, US to Resume Anti-Drug Air Operations. Ecuador said Thursday it is resuming anti-drug air operations with the US a decade after throwing out the US from the Manta air base. Then President Rafael Correa canceled the cooperation in 2009, saying the US military presence threatened national sovereignty, but current President Lenin Cerna, who is friendlier to the US, has tightened ties with the US.

Sentencing

Oklahoma Could Cut Prison Population in Half, Report Says. A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union's Campaign for Smart Justice and the nonpartisan policy organization the Urban Institute finds that Oklahoma has surpassed Louisiana in having the most prisoners per capita, but that the state can take measures to reduce the prison population. Those include ending mandatory minimum sentencing, shifting more discretionary power in sentencing to judges, but the report said the move that would have the most dramatic impact on population would be to focus on drug sentences. The report recommended slashing the time served for drug distribution by 60%, from an average of 3.3 years to 1.3 years. That move alone would create a 22.5% drop in the prison population by 2025, the report said.

International

Bolivian Coca Farmers Demonstrate Against Their Former Coca Grower President. Thousands of coca growers took to the streets of La Paz on Wednesday in opposition to the government of President Evo Morales, himself a former coca grower and union leader. The protestors say the government's coca eradication efforts have hurt their livelihoods and led to the death of at least two of the members.

Colombian Riot Police Break Up Bogota Marijuana "Smoke-a-Thon". Riot police in Bogota on Thursday broke up a "smoke-a-thon" defending the use of marijuana. The demonstration was called to protest President Ivan Duque's moves to tighten the country's drug laws, which allow people to possess small amounts of marijuana. Duque recently issued a decree allowing police to seize any drug consumed in public. The Bogota demonstration was quickly dispersed, with at least a half-dozen people arrested as clashes broke out.

Nigerian Presidential Candidate Wants to Make Country Marijuana Export Giant. Omoyele Sowore, a publisher and presidential hopeful in Nigeria says he will make the country a marijuana exporting hub if elected as president. Sowore said many other countries are making billions from the plant, while people in Nigeria are being jailed for it. "Some of the best weeds in the world are grown in Ekiti state. I'm very serious. People are making billions out of that particular plant that is very potent in Nigeria. We should be focusing on it. We have to start taking care of our weed (Igbo), such that we can also contribute to the GDP of the world," he said. "Our NDLEA (National Drug Law Enforcement Agency) should get the notice, memo in advance that Nigeria will be exporting weed to cure cancer in other parts of the world. Instead of chasing after people who are growing weed whereas we are not chasing after our politicians who are smoking cocaine in their houses."

Chronicle AM: Colombia Moves Backwards on Drug Policy, NYPD Pot Arrests Now Halted, More... (9/4/18)

Colombia's new president moves resolutely backward on drug policy, New York City's era of mass marijuana possession arrests is over, the California legislature has been busy, and more.

The era of New York City as the world's marijuana arrest capital has come to an end. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Lawmakers Pass Bill that Will Support Local Cannabis Equity Programs to Increase Representation in the Industry by Persons from Communities Most Harmed by Cannabis Prohibition. The legislature has approved Senate Bill 1294, which helps create equity in the cannabis industry through the distribution of grants to localities offering assistance to persons most harmed by cannabis prohibition and generational poverty. SB 1294 will offer grants to localities with existing equity programs -- such as Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, and San Francisco -- to support them as they offer equity-qualifying applicants and licensees business loans and grants, regulatory compliance and technical assistance, and licensing fee waivers. SB 1294 reflects a nationwide movement to ensure that this growing industry is representative and accessible to all persons, no matter their financial or criminal history background. Advocates, entrepreneurs, and local governments now call on Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to sign this important measure.

Delaware Governor Signs Marijuana Expungement Bill Into Law. Gov. John Carney (D) last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 197, which "provides mandatory expungement eligibility to individuals who were convicted of the possession [of one ounce or less], use or consumption of marijuana prior to Delaware's decriminalization of these offenses." The provision only applies to people who have no other criminal convictions on their records.

New York City Change in Marijuana Arrest Policy Now in Effect. As of Saturday, the NYPD is no longer arresting people for small-time marijuana use or possession in most cases. The city arrested more than 10,000 people on such charges last year. Officials said the change came because the arrests had nothing to do with public safety and were racially disproportionate. "Our new policy, we're going to see a humongous drop in people in communities of color being arrested for marijuana," NYPD Chief Rodney Harrison said. "And that was one of the whole goals of this whole new policy."

New Psychoactive Substances

DEA Makes Synthetic Cathinone Schedule I Substance. The DEA last Friday announced it was placing the synthetic cathinone N-Ethylpentylone into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. This is a temporary scheduling action good for up to 24 months, during which time research will be conducted to see if the drug should be permanently scheduled. DEA said the drug was linked to 151 deaths in the US since 2015.

Sentencing Policy

California Lawmakers Pass Bill Giving Judges the Power to Set Aside Ineffective and Punitive Five-year Sentence Enhancement. The legislature last Friday gave final approval to Senate Bill 1393, which would restore judicial discretion to the application of a five-year sentence enhancement for each prior serious felony on a person's criminal record. Current law requires judges to add an additional five-years to cases, even when the judge believes that the punishment is unjust and unwarranted. If signed into law, judges would have maximum flexibility during the penalty phase of a trail to impose, or not impose, the additional five-years. A coalition of people who are directly impacted, their families, service providers, and advocates now call on Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to sign this important measure.

International

Colombian President Moves to Recriminalize Drug Possession. President Ivan Duque announced on Sunday measures to give police the power to seize personal use quantities of drugs that had previously been legalized. "This week will sign the decree through which, in development of the police code 02 of the 2009 legislative act, we will give the authorities tools to confiscate any dose of drugs or hallucinogens in the streets of Colombia, and thus face the root of micro-trafficking problems," said Duque. The measures would appear to contradict rulings by the country's Constitutional Court, which in 2012 approved the decriminalization of small amounts of cocaine and marijuana for personal use.

Chronicle AM: NJ Firm Can Drug Test MedMJ Patient, Egypt Bans "Synthetic Hashish," More... (8/17/18)

A federal judge sides with a New Jersey company against a medical marijuana-using worker, Egypt bans "synthetic hashish," a Mexican state advances a bill to decriminalize opium production, and more.

Bolivian President Evo Morales says he wants to return to coca farming, but the people demand him. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Business Can Drug Test Medical Marijuana Patient, Federal Court Rules. A federal district court judge has ruled that a New Jersey business does not have to waive its requirement for mandatory drug testing to accommodate a worker who uses medical marijuana. The worker had sued the company after it wouldn't allow him to return to work unless he submitted to drug testing. "New Jersey law does not require private employers to waive drug tests for users of medical marijuana," Judge Robert Kugler wrote in his decision. He also noted that "unless expressly provided for by statute, most courts have concluded that the decriminalization of medical marijuana does not shield employees from adverse employment actions."

International

Bolivia President Says He Wants to Return to Coca Farming, But Country Wants Him. President Evo Morales said Thursday he will seek a fourth term in office, citing broad popular support. "The people ask me to return, I do not want to... I want to return to my region to harvest coca, that's the great desire I have, but it is not easy to reject it when the people push you," Morales said. Morales has led the country since 2006, during which period poverty levels have fallen by 3.5%.

Egypt "Synthetic Hashish" Ban. The Health Ministry this week officially banned six forms of "synthetic hashish," or synthetic cannabinoids. The ministry said the ban applied to six "extremely addictive" substances, but it did not provide the technical names for the banned substances.

Mexican State Moving to Legalize Opium Production for Pharmaceutical Purposes. A legislative committee in the state of Guerrero, Mexico's opium production epicenter, has approved a draft bill to decriminalize the production and sale of opium for pharmaceutical purposes. If the bill is approved by the state legislature, it would then be sent to the federal congress for approval. The law is designed to reduce the impact of federal law enforcement on local producers, but critics worry such a law could be used fraudulently by drug cartels supplying heroin to the US.

Chronicle AM: ND MJ Init Makes November Ballot, Colombia to Forcibly Uproot Coca, More... (8/13/18)

North Dakota becomes the second state (after Michigan) to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative this year, Denver's mayor comes around on legal pot, the UN will review marijuana's status under international law, and more.

Denver's mayor opposed marijuana legalization, but now has seen the light. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. The secretary of state's office announced Monday organizers of a marijuana legalization initiative had handed in enough valid voter signatures to qualify their measure for the November ballot. That makes North Dakota the second state to qualify a legalization initiative for November: Michigan activists did so earlier this year.

Denver Mayor Changes Tune on Legalization. Mayor Michael Hancock campaigned against the state's successful 2012 legalization initiative, but after five years of legal weed, he's singing a different tune. Prompted by a recent report that touted the city's accomplishments with legal marijuana, Hancock now says the city's approach "is working." He noted that the city was the first large city in the country to take on the "daunting challenge" of legalization, "and we are having success."

International

UN Launches First-Ever Full Review Of Marijuana's Status Under International Law. The World Health Organization's (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) will launch a first-ever in-depth review of whether marijuana is properly scheduled under international drug control treaties. The group held a "pre-review" earlier this year. "A pre-review is the first step of the ECDD's assessment process, where it is determined whether there is enough robust scientific information to proceed to the next step, called a critical review. This initial evaluation is also an opportunity to identify gaps in the available scientific data. A critical review is carried out when there is sufficient scientific evidence to allow the ECDD to make an informed recommendation that the substance be placed under international control, or if its level of control should be changed."

Canada's British Columbia Begins Drug Testing in Provincial Cities. Responding to a large number of opioid overdose deaths in the province, BC Interior Health has begun funding full-time drug testing services in seven cities in the province. The program provides fentanyl testing strips to local service providers.

Colombia's Defense Minister Says Government Will Forcibly Eradicate Coca Crops. Defense Minister Guillermo Botero said last Friday the government has decided to forcibly eradicate coca crops in the country. Former President Juan Manuel Santos had ended forced eradication in a bid to reduce associated violence, but new President Ivan Duque will go ahead despite the potential for violence in a move that is sure to please the United States.

Chronicle AM: Colombia's New President Vows Drug Crackdown, ND Pot Init Lives, More... (8/8/18)

The Northern Mariana Islands could be the first US territory to legalize weed, a North Dakota legalization initiative looks like it will probably make the ballot, Colombia's new president vows to resort to old prohibitionist drug war policies, and more.

Newly installed Colombian President Ivan Duque vows a drug crackdown. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization Bill Passes Northern Mariana Islands House. The Northern Marianas Islands House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 20-178, on an 18-1-1 vote. The bill legalizes the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, but also for adult use. People can possess up to an ounce and grow a limited number of plants, and the bill creates a regime for legal, regulated, and taxed production and sales. It now goes before the territory's Senate. If it passes, the Northern Marianas would be the first US territory to legalize marijuana.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Likely to Make Ballot, State Officials Say. State election officials have told Marijuana Moment that the organizers of a marijuana legalization initiative have very likely come up with enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The group, LegalizeND, submitted about 18,700 raw signatures; it needs 13,452 valid voter signatures to qualify. The elections office is currently finishing the signature verification process and will announce on August 13 whether the measure qualified.

Congressional Bar on DC Regulated Sales Leading to Distribution Arrest Surge, Report Finds. More than 900 people were arrested for marijuana offenses in the nation's capital last year, a jump of 37% over 2016 figures, according to new data from the DC Metro Police. Pot arrests bottomed out at 323 in 2015, the first full year of legalization. Prior to legalization, the vast majority of arrests were for possession, but since then, distribution and possession with intent to distribute account for the majority of pot arrests. Analysts pointed to the congressional bar against the District allowing legal, regulated sales as being behind both the overall jump in arrests and the increasing percentage of sales and possession with intent arrests.

International

Colombia's New President Takes Office, Vows Drug Crackdown. Ivan Duque, a conservative ally of former President Alvaro Uribe, was installed as president Tuesday. He immediately pointed to the expansion of coca production, corruption, and the violence of drug trafficking groups as problems he will address. "The time has come for us to unite to confront all illegalities," including drug trafficking and production, he said. "We will be effective in the eradication and substitution of illegal crops, accompanied by productive opportunities" for farmers and a crackdown on drug traffickers, Duque promised. "Building peace, Colombians, means to defeat the drug cartels," he said.

Chronicle AM: Sessions Concedes State Can Make Own MJ Laws, Mexico Opium, More... (7/27/18)

The US attorney general admits states can make their own pot laws, a new report finds racial disparities in marijuana enforcement in the New York suburbs, a Mexican governor calls for legal opium production, and more.

Jeff Sessions acknowledges states' rights even on marijuana policy. (Senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Sessions Acknowledges States Can Set Own Marijuana Laws. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, while staunchly sticking up for federal marijuana prohibition, acknowledged Thursday that states can set their own pot laws. Responding to a reporter's question in Boston, he said the Justice Department will continue enforcing federal marijuana laws, but added: "Personally, my view is that the American republic will not be better if there are marijuana sales on every street corner, but states have a right to set their own laws and will do so, and we will follow the federal law," he said.

Report Finds Racial Disparities in Suburban NYC Pot Arrests. A report from the WESPAC Foundation, Westchester Coalition for Police Reform, and the Drug Policy Alliance released Thursday finds that marijuana prohibition in suburban Westchester County has largely targeted people of color and that the harms of prohibition have been visited almost entirely on them. While black people account for only 14% of the county's population, they made up more than half (52%) off all pot possession busts. Latinos were similarly arrested for pot possession at disproportionate rates. The report also noted the targeting of youth. Some 58% of people arrested for pot possession were 25 or younger.

International

UN Chief Warns Colombia It Must Consolidate Peace. In a report to the UN Security Council released Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the Colombian government must address major challenges and consolidate peace. He said there is no greater challenge than bringing development, security, and the rule of law to "vast expanses of the country that continue to be prey to violence" and that the challenges to peace included continued violence in conflict zones. "The proliferation of illegal groups and the growth of the coca economy, as well as frustration and fears among former combatants and among communities who feel bypassed by the peace process, leave no doubt as to the magnitude of the challenges that await the new government, Colombian institutions and civil society alike," he said.

Governor of Mexico's Guerrero Wants Opium Production Legalized. Hector Astudillo, governor of the south-central state of Guerrero, Mexico's leading opium production region, said he supports the incoming government's plan to explore regulating opium production for pharmaceutical use. "It's time," Astudillo told Mexican radio. "I'm delighted that a different way of dealing with the poppy is finally going to be explored." Astudillo himself had floated the same idea back in 2016. "To curb the violence, we must look for another approach to poppy cultivation, not only in Guerrero but in the golden triangle," he said, referring to the region in the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and Durango where large quantities of marijuana and poppies are grown. "Because it's such an important ingredient for medicine, the poppy could be used for medical purposes, as is being done in other countries," Astudillo added.

Chronicle AM: Federal State-Legal Pot Reporting Bill Filed, Mexico Killings Still Rising, More... (7/24/18)

Prospects look iffy for a pair of Oklahoma marijuana initiatives, a federal bill requiring reporting on the impact of state-level legalization is filed, Canada's pot arrests shrink, Mexico's murders increase, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Federal Bill to Require Report on State-Level Legalization Filed. Led by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a bipartisan group of representatives on Tuesday filed the Marijuana Data Collection Act, which would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to work with other agencies to study "the effects of state legalized marijuana programs on the economy, public health, criminal justice, and employment." The measure has not yet been assigned a bill number.

Oklahoma Marijuana Initiatives Unlikely to Qualify in Time for November Ballot. Proponents of a pair of initiatives, State Question 796 to legalize medical marijuana via a constitutional amendment, and State Question 797 to do the same for recreational marijuana are up against a ticking clock and will likely not be able to get the measures on the ballot this year. Secretary of State James Williamson said Monday. Circulators have until August 8 to hand in signatures, but under state law, the initiatives must be approved no fewer than 70 days before the November election. It normally takes the state about 60 days to verify signatures, and that August 8 deadline means there are only 69 days before the election. Also, any challenges to the initiatives could delay them even further. If they don't make the November ballot, a special election is unlikely and they would then appear on the November 2020 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Appeals Court Rules Freshly Harvested Marijuana is Illegal Under State Medical Marijuana Law. In a bizarre ruling, the state Court of Appeals held Tuesday that marijuana harvested but not yet fully dried is not "usable" and thus not covered by the state's medical marijuana law. That means a person can be arrested for having it even if he or she is a licensed grower.

Oklahoma Lawmakers to Begin Working on Medical Marijuana Rules Wednesday. A bipartisan group of 13 legislators is set to begin working on recommendations for medical marijuana regulations on Wednesday. The group was formed after the state Health Board created an uproar by adding two controversial rules, one barring the sale of smokeable medical marijuana and the other requiring the presence of a pharmacist at dispensaries.

International

Canada Pot Arrests Drop to Record Low. The number of people charged with marijuana offenses has dropped to the lowest level this century. The 13,800 arrests in 2017 were less than half the 28,000 people arrested in 2011. Police said the reason was twofold: Police have been concentrating on the opioid crisis, and, as legalization nears, they have been exercising their discretion and not bothering to arrest people for pot anymore.

Mexico Murders Increased 16% in First Half of This Year. There were some 15,973 murders in Mexico in the first half of 2018, up from 13,751 during the same period last year. The number is the highest since comprehensive records began being kept in 1997. Still, the curve may be flattening out, analysts said, noting that the first half of 2018 saw only a 4% increase over the last half of 2017. But still&hellip<>

Drug War Issues

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