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Chronicle AM: More State Forfeiture Bills, Colombia Drug Farmers Organizing, More... (1/24/17)

Colorado high court rules cops don't have to give your legal weed back if they seize if, changes in the Arkansas medical marijuana law go to the governor, there's more asset forfeiture activity in the states, Colombia's drug crop growers organize, and more.

Asset forfeiture abuses are leading to corrective efforts in more and more states. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Supreme Court Says Cops Don't Have to Give Seized Marijuana Back. The state Supreme Court ruled Monday that police cannot be forced to return marijuana to a defendant acquitted of pot crimes, because that would cause them to violate the federal Controlled Substances Act. "The return provision requires law enforcement officers to return, or distribute, marijuana," the decision says. "Thus compliance with the return provision necessarily requires law enforcement officer to violate federal law." Three justices disagreed, however, saying that the CSA "immunizes federal and state officers from civil and criminal liability in the circumstances at issue here." But they lost.

Virginia Bill to End Drivers' License Suspension for Possession Advances. A bill that would undo an existing state law requiring the suspension of drivers' licenses for people convicted of pot possession was approved by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee Monday. The measure, Senate Bill 1091 still need approval from the full chamber.

Texas Judge Recommends No Punishment for Teacher Who Smoked Pot in Colorado. A teacher who admitted legally consuming marijuana while in Texas should not face any legal or professional penalty, an administrative judge has ruled. The Texas Education Agency sought to suspend the teacher's license for two years after she handed in a urine sample that tested positive for marijuana. The judge found that the teacher was not "unworthy to instruct" and that there was no evidence to suggest she was under the influence of marijuana while teaching. The TEA will have to make a final decision.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Legislature Approves Changes to Medical Marijuana Law. With the state Senate's approval Monday, House Bill 1058 now goes to the governor. It passed the House last week. The bill removes a requirement that doctors declare the benefits of medical marijuana outweigh the risk to the patient. It also specifies that patient information submitted to qualify for medical marijuana is "confidential," but would not be considered "medical records" subject to the Health Information Privacy Protection Act.

Illinois State Treasurer Asks Trump for Clarity on Banking for Medical Marijuana Industry. State Treasurer Michael Frerichs said Monday he sent a letter to President Trump urging him to give clear guidance to the banking industry on marijuana. Frerichs said currently federal law makes it difficult for legal businesses to get loans and restricts customers to cash-only transactions.

North Dakota House Approves Bill Preventing Worker's Comp from Paying for Medical Marijuana. The House overwhelmingly approved House Bill 1156 Monday. Passed in response to voters' approval of a medical marijuana initiative in November, the bill prevents the state Workforce Safety and Insurance agency from paying for medical marijuana to treat a workplace injury. Legislators said marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Kratom

Florida Kratom Ban Effort Gets Senate Companion Bill. Rep. Kristin Jacobs' (D) lonely crusade to ban kratom is not quite as lonely today. Democratic state Sen. Darryl Rouson has filed Senate Bill 424, which, like Jacobs' House bill, would add the active ingredients in kratom to the state's list of controlled substances.

Asset Forfeiture

Alaska Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. State Rep. Tammie Wilson (R-North Pole) has filed House Bill 42, which would end civil asset forfeiture by requiring law enforcement obtain a criminal conviction before property is seized. "This has to do with the belongings that are taken," Wilson said. "They still can seized. But now there will be a process for those who were not involved to be able to get their items back without a lengthy proceeding and have to get an attorney to be able to do that."

Oklahoma Asset Forfeiture Bill Coming Back. State Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) will once again file asset forfeit legislation this year. The bill would require convictions before asset forfeiture unless the property is valued at more than $50,000, if the person denies any connection to the property, or is deported or otherwise unavailable. Similar efforts in past years have been blocked by strong law enforcement lobbying efforts.

Wisconsin Asset Forfeiture Bill Filed. A bipartisan group of lawmakers is preparing an asset forfeiture reform bill that would require a criminal conviction before any seizure takes place, that any seizure be proportional to the offense, and that proceeds from forfeitures be directed to state general funds, and not law enforcement. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Drug Testing

North Dakota Welfare Drug Testing Bill Filed. State Sen. Tom Campbell (R-Grafton) has filed Senate Bill 2279, which would require the state Department of Human Services to develop a procedure for testing welfare applicants suspected of illegal drug use. The bill would deny benefits for a year to applicants who refuse a drug assessment, refuse a drug test, or don't participate in a treatment program. Similar legislation has been introduced the last three sessions. The Department of Human Services does not support it.

International

Colombia Coca, Opium, and Marijuana Farmers to Form Association. The growers are planning to found the National Coordinator of Coca, Marijuana, and Opium Growers to try "to forge a common negotiating front with the government to influence any potential agreements on drug control that come as a result of peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The organization would have national reach and appears to be an effort to create a political coalition with the aim of directly negotiating with the government. Notably, such a coalition could form a future political support base for an eventual FARC political party. By linking the future of a FARC party to the issue of forceful eradication, which the group would almost assuredly oppose, the pace of eradication in Colombia could end up slowing even further," Stratfor reported.

Chronicle AM: MA Bills Subvert Legalization Init, OR MJ Bill Protects Workers, More... (1/23/17)

A Democratic Massaschusetts state senator is out to seriously undercut the state's new, voter-approved marijuana legalization law, an Oregon bill seeks to protect marijuana users' employment rights, El Chapo gets extradited to the US, and more.

Marijuana Policy

DC Activists Hand Out 8,000 Joints for Trump Inauguration. The same folks who brought you legal marijuana in the District were on hand Friday for the inauguration of the incoming president. DCMJ activists handed out nearly double the promised 4,200 joints they promised. A good time was had by all. "Oh yeah, there's 10,000 people who showed up for free marijuana today, so it's really busy," DCMJ founder Adam Eidinger said. "The goal is really to get Donald Trump talking about marijuana, to show the tremendous support. To show that you can have Trump supporters and non-Trump supporters together in unity."

Arizona Decriminalization, Legalization Bills Filed. State Rep. Mark Cardenas (D-Phoenix) filed a bill to decriminalize pot possession (House Bill 2002) and one to legalize marijuana (House Bill 2003). Previous similar bills have never won even a committee hearing, but the state's felony marijuana possession law may finally be out of step with the times enough to give the decrim bill a hearing.

Hawaii Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed.Speaker of the House Joseph Souki (D-District 8) has filed House Bill 205, which "authorizes persons 21 years of age or older to consume or possess limited amounts of marijuana for personal use. Provides for the licensing of marijuana cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, safety testing facilities, and retail stores" and "applies an excise tax on transactions between marijuana establishments."

Maryland Appeals Court Upholds Search Based on Pot Smell, Despite Decriminalization. Even though the possession of small amounts of pot has been decriminalized in the state, the state's highest court has ruled that it remains a banned substance and thus give police probable cause to search a vehicle if they smell it. "Simply put, decriminalization is not synonymous with legalization, and possession of marijuana remains unlawful," Court of Appeals Judge Shirley M. Watts wrote in a unanimous opinion issued Friday. Defendants had argued that police should be required to cite factors leading them to believe the amount they smelled was greater than the 10 grams decriminalized under state law. But the court didn't buy that argument.

Massaschusetts Bills Would Gut Legalization Law. Hardline marijuana foe state Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) has filed legislation that would deeply curb the ability of state residents to possess and grow marijuana and threaten the ability of recreational pot shops to begin selling a full range of products next year. Lewis would delay the ability of pot shops, now set to open in July 2018, to sell edibles and concentrates for at least two more years, and he would dramatically increase the ability of local governments to reject marijuana businesses. Under the legalization law, they must go to the voters, but Lewis's legislation would undo that. Groups that led the successful November legalization initiative are vowing a vigorous fightback. His package of 14 bills was filed last Friday, the last day to do so.

Oregon Bill to Prevent Pot Smokers From Getting Fired Filed. State Rep. Ann Lininger (D-Lake Oswego) has filed Senate Bill 301, which would override a state Supreme Court decision saying employers can fire marijuana users even though it is legal in the state. The bill would bar employers from requiring workers or prospective workers to "refrain from using a substance that is lawful to use under the laws of this state during nonworking hours."

Virginia Legislators Punt on Decriminalization Bills. A state Senate committee Monday refused to approve a pair of decriminalization bills, instead opting to delay them while the Virginia State Crime Commission studies decriminalization. The bills were Senate Bill 1269 from Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Senate Bill 908 from Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth).

Asset Forfeiture

Illinois Bill Would End Civil Asset Forfeiture. State Rep. Al Riley (D-Hazel Crest) has filed House Bill 468, which would prohibit the state from seizing property without a criminal conviction. The measure would also block prosecutors from doing an end run around state law by passing cases off to the feds, who then return 80% of the money to the law enforcement agency involved. The bill has been referred to the House Rules Committee.

Drug Policy

California Bill Would Protect Immigrants from Deportation in Low-Level Drug Cases. Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) Monday filed a bill to shield immigrants from deportation for minor drug offenses -- as long as they seek drug treatment or counseling. The bill would adjust state law so that defendants without prior convictions within the last five years could enroll in drug treatment before entering a guilty plea and have those charges wiped from their record upon successful completion. That would prevent them from being considered drug offenders eligible for deportation under federal law. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed a similar bill last year. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Drug Testing

Missouri College Appeals to US Supreme Court Over Student Drug Testing. Linn State Technical College has appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn federal appeals court rulings that its program requiring mandatory drug testing of all incoming students is unconstitutional. The college has lost at just about every turn in this case, with a federal district court judge issuing an injunction to block implementation of the program, and the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals rejecting mass, suspicionless drug testing. The appeals court did allow the college to impose testing on students in five safety-sensitive programs.

International

El Chapo Extradited to the US. Longtime Sinaloa Cartel leader and repeat Mexican prison escapee Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was extradited to the US last Thursday to face drug and other charges in New York City. "The government of the republic today delivered Mr. Guzmán to the authorities of the United States of America," the Mexican foreign ministry said in a statement.

German MPs Vote to Approve Medical Marijuana. The lower house of parliament last Thursday approved a measure legalizing the medicinal use of marijuana. The law limits the use of medical marijuana to "very limited exceptional cases" and patients will not be allowed to grow their own. Instead medical marijuana will be imported until state-supervised grow operations are set up in Germany.

Chronicle AM: Abuse-Resistant Oxycontin Tied to Heroin ODs, S. America Coca News, More... (1/13/17)

A new study from the Rand Corporation links the introduction of abuse-resistant Oxycontin in 2010 to the rise in heroin overdose deaths, Bolivia and Colombia take different approaches to coca, a Georgian political party office gets raided, and more.

Georgian police seized pot plants in paper cups from the Girchi Party offices in Tbilisi Wednesday. (DF News)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Legalization Bill Filed. State Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Las Cruces) has filed House Bill 89, the Cannabis Revenue and Freedom Act. It would allow the possession of up to two ounces by adults at home and one ounce outside the household, the cultivation of up to six plants (or 12 per household) and the possession of a harvest up to eight ounces. The measure would revamp the state's existing medical marijuana system and allow for marijuana sales beginning in 2019.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia House Forms Medical Marijuana Study Committee. House Speaker David Ralson (R-Blue Ridge) announced Wednesday that a medical marijuana study committee had been formed with Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) as its chair. Peake is the author of the state's current limited medical marijuana law and has already announced plans for legislation this year.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

RAND: Introduction of Abuse-Deterrent Oxycontin Led to Rise in Heroin Overdose Deaths. In a new working paper released this week, the RAND Corporation looked at supply-side attempts to limit access to opioids and found unintended consequences. Focusing on the 2010 introduction of abuse-resistant Oxycontin, the RAND analysts found "large differential increases in heroin deaths immediately after reformulation in states with the highest initial rates of OxyContin misuse" and concluded that "a substantial share of the dramatic increase in heroin deaths since 2010 can be attributed to the reformulation of OxyContin."

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Eight state legislators jointly filed House Bill 1170 last week. The bill would prohibit the seizure of property without a criminal conviction in most cases. The measure would also require that most proceeds from forfeitures go into the state's general fund; currently, law enforcement agencies can keep up to 100% of the proceeds. The bill would also ban passing busts off to the feds in a bid to evade state restrictions.

International

Bolivia Government Files Bill to Expand Coca Production. The bill would expand legal coca production from 30,000 acres to 50,000 acres. But not all coca growers are happy because some regions are getting more expansion than others.

Colombia Starts Spraying Glyphosate on Coca Crops Again. Colombia recommenced the controversial program on January 2, but this time, it's not using airplanes. Instead, the spraying is being conducted by hand. The aerial spraying campaign had been ended in 2015 over health and environmental concerns, but faced with an increasing amount of coca under cultivation, the government is now resorting once more to the herbicide.

Republic of Georgia Police Raid Party Office, Seize Pot Plants. Georgian police raided the office of the Girchi Party Wednesday, seizing 84 marijuana seedlings that had been planted New Year's Day in a bid to gain publicity for drug decriminalization. Police had threatened party activists with up to 12 years in prison for drug cultivation, but so far have only seized the plants. "This is the price of the action, that something like this would have consequences. Let's see what level this absurdity will reach. I worry about the plants. I am not sure if they will take proper care on them," Iago Khvichia, a member of the party's political council said.

Chronicle AM: Guam Gov Files Legalization Bill, More Iran Drug Executions, More... (1/11/17)

Marijuana legalization bills get filed in Guam and the District of Columbia, the Global Drug Policy Commission asks Obama to commute more sentences, Chris Christie vows to fight drug addiction during his last year in office, and more.

Iran has already executed ten drug offenders this year, with another dozen set to face the gallows. (iranhr.org)
Marijuana Policy

Guam Governor Files Legalization Bill. Gov. Eddie Calvo Tuesday introduced a bill to legalize marijuana on the US island territory. "I am introducing this bill, not because I personally support the recreational use of marijuana, but as a solution to the regulatory labyrinth that sprouted from the voter-mandated medical marijuana program," Calvo said in a press release. The measure would legalize marijuana for people over 21 and impose a 15% tax on sales. Medical marijuana patients would be exempt from the tax.

DC Councilmember Files Bill for Legal Marijuana Commerce and Regulation. Councilmember David Grosso Tuesday filed a bill to establish a full tax and regulatory framework for legal marijuana commerce. If passed, the bill would put the District in conflict with Congress, which must approve city spending. But Grosso said that Congress had forced the District's hand with its meddling in city affairs.

Drug Policy

New Jersey Governor Vows to Heighten Fight Against Drug Addiction. In his final state of the state address, Gov. Chris Christie (R) said he will spend his last year as governor fighting drug addiction. "Our state faces a crisis which is more urgent to New Jersey's families than any other issue we could confront," Christie told the legislature in Trenton. "Beyond the human cost, which is incalculable, there is a real cost to every part of life in New Jersey." Christie is pushing for treatment instead of jail for nonviolent drug offenders, expanded drug courts, and expanded needle exchange programs, among other initiatives.

Law Enforcement

Federal Bill to Clear Way for more Surplus Military Gear for Police Filed. Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) has filed House Resolution 426, which would bar the federal government from limiting the sale or donation of excess federal property to state and local agencies for law enforcement purposes. The bill is a response to the Obama administration's short-lived decision last year to block the transfer of military-style equipment to domestic police forces.

Sentencing

Global Drug Policy Commission Asks Obama to Free More Prisoners. In an open letter to the outgoing president, the commission, which includes a number of former heads of state, thanked Obama for his efforts to shift from a punitive approach to drugs, noted that he had freed more than a thousand drug war prisoners through his clemency program, and asked for more: "We hope that in these final days of your presidency, you will use the power of your office to commute even more prison sentences of low-level drug offenders, and restore dignity and hope to their lives," the commission wrote. "May your example inspire not only your successor, but also governors across the country."

International

Colombia Coca Cultivation Set to Increase. Colombia's post-conflict minister, Rafael Pardo, said Tuesday that coca cultivation will increase this year, the third year in a row that has seen increases in the country's coca crop. Pardo said part of the reason was the government's turn away from using aerial eradication, but that a bigger part was the government's devaluation of the peso, which dramatically increased profit margins for drug traffickers.

Iran Starts New Year With Spate of Drug Executions. The world's leading drug executioner is at again. In the first week of the new year, Iran executed 16 people, 10 of them for drug offenses. Iran executes hundreds of people each year, with drug offenders accounting for an increasing number of them. In 2015, the last year with full statistics, 66% of all executions in Iran were for drug offenses. Another 12 prisoners were set to be executed for drug offenses this week.

The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2016 [FEATURE]

(See our Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2016 feature story too.)

The year that just ended has seen a serious outbreak of bloody violence against drug users and sellers in one country, it has seen drug offenders hung by the hundreds in another, it has seen efforts to fight the spread of drug-related HIV/AIDS falter for lack of funding, and it has seen the tenacity of the prohibitionist apparatus in the halls of the United Nations.

But there was also good news emanating from various corners of the world, including advances in marijuana legalization in Canada, the US, and Europe and the flouting of the proscription against the coca trade in the UN anti-drug treaties. And speaking of treaties, alhough we didn't include it this year because the drug policy implications remain unclear, the fruition of years'-long peace negotiations between Colombia and the leftist rebels of the FARC, which brings an end to the Western hemisphere's longest-running guerrilla war, is certainly worth noting.

Here are the ten most notable international drug policy events of 2016, the good, the bad, and the ugly:

The UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs saw progress, but achingly little. (Wikimedia.org)
1. The UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs

The global prohibitionist consenus was under growing strain at the UNGASS on Drugs, as civil society pressed the UN bureaucracy and member states for reforms as never before. But changes come at a glacial pace at the level of global diplomacy, and the vision of the UNGASS as a platform for discussing fundamental issues and plotting a new course ran up against the resistance of drug war hard-liners like Russia and China, and the studied indifference of European governments, who preferred that the UN drug policy center of gravity remain at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna. And while the US delegation advocated for some good stances, it, too, opposed any meddling with the trio of UN conventions that form the legal backbone of global drug prohibition.

Still, there were some incremental victories. UN agencies submitted their own position papers, many highly progressive, as were the submissions from some countries and international organizations. EU states and others fought hard for language opposing the death penalty for drug offenses, though unsuccessfully. And while the UNGASS Outcome Document avoids most big issues, it puts strong emphasis on treatment and alternatives to incarceration. It acknowledges the importance of human rights and proportionate sentencing. It has support for naloxone (the overdose antidote), medication-assisted treatment (e.g. methadone and buprenorphine), and safe injecting equipment, though avoiding the term "harm reduction" itself. And it calls for addressing obstacles to opioid availability. (Read a detailed report on UNGASS by some of our colleagues here, and read about some of our own work for the UNGASS here.)

2. Global Harm Reduction for AIDS Remains Tragically Underfunded, and Facing Worse. Despite the repeatedly-proven positive impact of harm reduction measures in reducing the spread and prevalence of HIV/AIDS, donors continue to refuse to pony up to pay for such measures. The UNAIDS program estimates that $2.3 billion was needed to fund AIDS-related harm reduction programs last year, but only $160 million was actually invested by donors as most member states cut their aid levels. That's only 7% of the requested funding level. That's after 2015 saw the first drop in support in five years (see pages 21-22) in funding for AIDS efforts in low- and middle-income countries. The world spends an estimated $100 billion a year on fighting drugs, but it can't come up with 2.3% of that figure to fight drug-related AIDS harms. Harm Reduction International has proposed a "10x20" shift of 10% of law enforcement funding toward harm reduction services by 2020 to address the gap.

Harm reduction's global funding challenges are further impacted by the global AIDS-fighting budget, which has taken a hit as the rise in the dollar has reduced the spending power of contributions from donor countries that use other currencies. Even worse, many of the countries currently benefiting from UN harm reduction funding have progressed economically to a point at which they are supposed to begin funding their own programs according to the UN development framework. But that may not be a realistic expectation, especially for the sometimes politically fraught programs needed to address disease transmission related to drug use.

3. America's Most Populous State Legalizes Marijuana, and So Do Several More. You know the global prohibitionist consensus is crumbling when the rot sets in at home, and that's what happened in November's US elections. California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts all voted to legalize marijuana, joining Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, which had led the way in 2012 and 2014. Now, some 50 million Americans live in pot-legal states, and that's going to mean increasing pressure on the government in Washington to end federal pot prohibition. It's also an example to the rest of the world.

4. Europe's Prohibitionist Consensus Begins Crumbling Around the Edges. No European nation has legalized marijuana, but signs are increasing that somebody is going to do it soon. If 2016 was any indication, the best candidates may be Italy, where a broadly supported legalization bill got a parliamentary hearing this year before surprise election results upset the country's political apple cart; Germany, where "legalization is in the air" as Berlin moves toward allowing cannabis coffee shops and Dusseldorf moves toward total marijuana legalization; and Denmark, where Copenhagen is trying yet again to legalize weed. In both Denmark and Germany, legalization isn't currently favored by the central governments, while in Italy, everything is in limbo after Europe's populist uprising swept the prime minister out of office. Still, the pressure is mounting in Europe.

Amsterdam's famed cannabis coffee houses look set to final get a legal source of supply. (Wikimedia.org)
5. The Dutch Are Finally Going to Do Something About the "Back Door Problem." The Dutch have allowed for the sale of marijuana at "coffee shops" since the 1980s, but never made any provision for a legal pot supply for retailers. Now, after 20 years of blocking any effort to decriminalize marijuana production, Prime Minister Mark Rutte's VVD party has had a change of heart. At a party conference in November, the VVD voted to support "smart regulation" of marijuana and "to redesign the entire domain surrounding soft drugs." The full text of the resolution, supported by 81% of party members, reads: "While the sale of cannabis is tolerated at the front door, stock acquisition is now illegal. The VVD wants to end this strange situation and regulate the policy on soft drugs in a smarter way. It's time to redesign the entire domain surrounding soft drugs. This redevelopment can only take place on a national level. Municipalities should stop experiments with cannabis cultivation as soon as possible." The opposition political parties are already in support of solving the long-lived "back door problem."

6. Canada's Move Toward Marijuana Legalization Continues Apace. Justin Trudeau and the Liberals swept the Tories out of power in October 2015 with a platform that included a clear-cut call for marijuana legalization. Movement toward that goal has been slow but steady, with the task force charged with clearing the way calling for wide-ranging legalization in a report report issued in December. The Liberals say they expect to file legalization bills in the parliament this spring, and Canada remains on track to free the weed.

7. Bolivia Ignores UN Drug Treaty, Agrees to Export Coca to Ecuador. Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former coca grower union leader himself, opened the year campaigning to decriminalize the coca trade and closed it without waiting for the UN to act by inking an agreement with Ecuador to export coca there. The agreement would appear to violate the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which bans the export of coca leaf because it contains the cocaine alkaloid, but neither Bolivia nor Ecuador seem to care.

Mexico's latest drug war marked its 10th anniversary last month. (Wikimedia.org)
8. Mexico Marks a Decade of Brutal Drug Wars. In December, 2006, then-President Felipe Calderon sent the Mexican army into the state of Michoacan in what he said was a bid to get serious about fighting the drug trade. It didn't work, and in fact, led to the worst prohibition-related violence in the country's history, with an estimated 100,000 + killed and tens of thousands more gone missing. Attention to the cartel wars peaked in 2012, which was a presidential election year in both the US and Mexico, and the level of killing declined after that, but has now risen back to those levels. Calderon's replacement, Enrique Pena Nieto, has publicly deemphasized the drug war, but has not substantially shifted the policy. The arrest of Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has weakened his cartel, but that has only led to more violence as new competitors vie for supremacy.

There are signs of hope on the policy front though, if early ones, with medical marijuana being implemented, attitudes toward legalization softening, and the government playing a role in forwarding the international debate on drug policy reform.

9. Iran Has Second Thoughts About the Death Penalty for Drugs. The Islamic Republic is perhaps the world's leading drug executioner, with drug offenders accounting for the vast majority of the more than a thousand people it executed in 2015 (2016 numbers aren't in yet), but there are increasing signs the regime could change course. In November, the parliament agreed to expedite deliberations on a measure that would dramatically limit the number of people facing execution for drugs. Now, the proposal will get top priority in the Legal and Social Affairs Committee before heading before the full parliament. The measure would limit the death penalty to "organized drug lords," "armed trafficking," "repeat offenders," and "bulk drug distributors."

10. The Philippines Wages a Bloody War on Drug Users and Sellers. With the election of former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte as president, the country descended into a veritable blood-bath, as police and "vigilantes" seemingly competed to see who could kill more people faster. Duterte has brushed off criticism from the US, the UN, and human rights groups, and even insulted his critics, although he did have kind words to say about Donald Trump, who had kind words to say about him. As of year's end, the death toll was around 6,000, with the vigilantes claiming a slight lead over the cops.

Chronicle AM: Maine Init Losers Still Fighting, New Cartel Gains Strength in MX, More... (12/29/16)

Maine election losers seek to block the implementation of marijuana legalization, Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel is being overtaken by an upstart, and more.

With El Chapo behind bars, the Sinaloa Cartel is being overtaken by rivals.
Marijuana Policy

Sore Losers Department: Maine Marijuana Foes Now Seek Moratorium on Implementing Legalization. The anti-legalization group Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities, whose effort to defeat the marijuana initiative failed and whose effort to overturn the results via a recount also failed, is now calling for a moratorium on implementing the law. The law calls for a nine-month period for regulators to make rules for retailers and social clubs, but the group says that isn't enough.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Michigan Overdose Reversal Drugs Will Be Easier to Obtain Next Week. Thanks to bills signed into law Wednesday, Michiganders will have easier access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) beginning January 1. One bill allows pharmacists to dispense the drug without a prescription under a standing order from the state's chief medical officer. Another bill gives school boards the ability to get a prescription for naloxone to be administered by a school nurse or other trained employee in case a student overdoses.

International

DEA Says There's a New Biggest Cartel in Mexico. The days of Sinaloa Cartel dominance of the Mexican drug trade and criminal underworld are over, and "El Chapo" Guzman's men have been ousted by a relatively new player on the scene: the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG in its Spanish initials), the DEA says. The group operates in at least half of Mexico's states, as well as along the entire Pacific Coast of North and South America, as well as having distribution operations in Asia, Oceania, and Europe.

Chronicle AM: Congressional Cannabis Caucus, Hemispheric Drug Policy Study Passes, More... (12/12/16)

A bipartisan effort to goose federal marijuana reforms is underway, a bill that would establish a hemispheric drug policy review heads for the president's desk, the Israeli anti-drug body makes a surprise move, and more.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) is a founding member of the new congressional cannabis caucus. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Cannabis Caucus Created. Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) have announced the formation of a congressional cannabis caucus to speed the passage of federal marijuana reform legislation. Another Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) will likely emerge as a spokesman for the caucus, which will begin meeting next month.

Drug Policy

Congress Passes Bill to Reassess Hemispheric Drug Policy. The Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act (HR1812) has passed the Congress and now heads to the president's desk. The bill sponsored by Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) was folded into the State Department appropriations bill. "Over the last few decades, we've spent billions and billions of taxpayer dollars on counter-narcotics programs in Latin America and the Caribbean," said Engel. "The Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission will force us to take a fresh look at our drug policy and make sure we have the best strategy moving forward. We need to have an honest assessment of what has worked and what has failed as we consider how to spend our counter-narcotics dollars in the future. With heroin use on the rise here at home, our children deserve no less than a fair evaluation of our drug policy."

Study Slams Virginia Drivers' License Suspensions for Drug Convictions. Under a law dubbed "a relic of the drug war," some 38,000 Virginians lose their driving privileges each year, not for traffic offenses, but for any drug conviction, including the possession of small amounts of marijuana. A new study from the Prison Policy Institute contends that the law is counterproductive, threatens public safety, and unnecessarily burdens low income offenders by limiting their ability to get or keep a job, pay fines, and cover expenses like child support.

International

Colombia President Accepts Nobel Peace Prize, Slams Drug War. President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the prize for his critical role in overseeing lengthy peace negotiations with FARC rebels that have now resulted in an accord ending the world's longest-running civil war. In his acceptance speech Saturday, he reiterated his call for a "rethink" of the war on drugs, saying "Colombia has been the country that has paid the highest costs in deaths and sacrifices. He also suggested that changing policies in the US make it unreasonable to prosecute the drug war in Colombia. "It makes no sense to imprison a peasant who grows marijuana, when nowadays, for example, its cultivation and use are legal in eight states of the United States," he said.

Israel's Anti-Drug Body Reverses Itself, Calls for Drug Decriminalization. In a surprise move, the Israel Anti-Drug Authority told the Knesset's Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse that it supports the "Portugal model," where drug use and possession is decriminalized and treated as a public health issue and called for the decriminalization of up to 25 grams of marijuana. Reform foe Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is expected to object strenuously.

Chronicle AM: AK Sees First Legal Pot Shops, Boston Archdiocese Donates Big to Block Pot Init, More... (10/31/16)

A week out from Election Day, it's looking good in California, the organized opposition is spending big in Massachusetts, but the state's largest newspaper endorses the legalization initiative, and more.

New legally on sale in Alaska. (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy 

Alaska's First Legal Pot Shop Opens. Herbal Outfitters opened for business in Valdez Saturday, becoming the state's first legal marijuana store. The opening comes nearly two years after voters there approved legalization and was met by long lines of eager customers. Stores in Fairbanks are set to open today and Wednesday.

California Legalization Initiative Still Polling Above 50%. A new Public Policy Institute of California poll has the Prop 64 legalization initiative supported by 55% of likely voters, with 38% opposed and just 6% undecided. That's down from last month's PPIC poll, which had support at 60%, but in line with other recent polls that have had the measure sitting in the mid- to upper-fifties.

Massachusetts Legalization Foes Get Big Give from Boston Archdiocese. Be prepared for a last minute ad blitz against the Question 4 legalization initiative after a late $850,000 donation from the Catholic Church's Boston Archdiocese. That late gift means the opposition now has $2.4 million to spend and only a week to spend it. Pro-legalization forces have outspent the opposition so far by at least $1.3 million, but now it's the foes who have the money in the bank.

Boston Globe Endorses Massachusetts Legalization Initiative. Scolding the state's political class for failing to act to legalize marijuana, its largest newspaper has reluctantly endorsed Question 4. "If the political leaders of the Commonwealth showed even the slightest interest in legalization, it would probably make sense to wait for lawmakers to produce a better-crafted proposal than the current ballot measure," the newspaper wrote. "But Question 4 is all we’ve got. The Globe endorses the yes campaign, despite the proposal’s many flaws, because the harm stemming from continued inaction on marijuana would be even greater."

Even in Wyoming, Support for Marijuana Legalization is Increasing. A new poll from the University of Wyoming's Survey and Analysis Center finds rising support for marijuana in the Cowboy State. Support for legalization is now at 41%, up from 37% two years ago, and support for medical marijuana is even higher, rising from 74% in 2014 to 81% now.  

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Supreme Court Disqualifies One Initiative; One Remains. Responding to a late legal challenge, the state Supreme Court last week disqualified one of the two medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot—even though the ballots had already been printing and early voting had begun. Issue 7, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, was disqualified; Issue 6, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, remains on the ballot. State officials said votes already cast for Issue 7 will not be counted.

Drug Policy

Gallup Finds Fears About Drugs at Lowest Level Since It Started Asking. A new Gallup poll finds that early two-thirds (65%) of Americans say drug problems in the US are "extremely" or "very serious," which seems high, but the figure is the lowest since the polling firm started asking the question in 2000. Back then, 83% said America's drug problems were "extremely" or "very serious." Gallup speculates that the decline may "reflect less-prominent federal anti-drug efforts in recent years than in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. In fact, more recently, much of the news about drug policy has focused on state-level efforts to decriminalize marijuana."

International

Cartel Violence Driving Jump in Mexico Murders. Homicides have increased to record highs for the last three months, and are up 20% over last year for the year so far. The death toll hit 1,974 in September—the most since 2011 when then President Felipe Calderon's cartel wars were in full swing. Analysts blame renewed fighting among the cartels for the steady uptick. 

Chronicle AM: DEA Kratom Ban Retreat, France's First Supervised Injection Site, More... (10/12/16)

A new Pew poll has support for marijuana legalization at 57% nationwide, the DEA is forced to back away from its kratom ban, France opens its first supervised injection site, and more.

In a historic move, the DEA was forced to back away from enacting an emergency ban on kratom. (Project CBD)
Marijuana Policy

New National Poll Has Solid Majority Support for Legalization. A new Pew Research Center poll released today has support for marijuana legalization nationwide at 57%, with 37% opposed. A recent Gallup poll had it at 58%. Pew says the numbers show that public opinion on the issue has flipped in the past decade. In 2006, only 32% supported legalization, with 60% opposed.

Delaware Legislator Vows to File Legalization Bill Next Year. State Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D), the Senate majority whip, said she will introduce a pot legalization bill in January. "It's certainly being considered. It's going to be an uphill battle," Henry said Tuesday during a meeting of the state Medical Marijuana Act Oversight Committee. "But it's time, quite frankly. It's time to certainly look at it."

Nevada's Largest Labor Union Endorses Legalization Initiative. Culinary Union Local 226, the largest labor union in the state, is getting behind the Question 2 legalization initiative. The union represents some 60,000 workers in the Silver State.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Poll Has Initiative With Strong Lead. A new poll from the Public Opinion Research Laboratory at the University of North Florida has more than three-out-four likely voters supporting the Question 2 medical marijuana initiative. The poll had support at 77%. The initiative needs 60% to win because it is a constitutional amendment.

Kratom

In Unprecedented Move, DEA Backs Away from Kratom Ban -- At Least for Now. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has posted a notice in the Federal Register stating that it is withdrawing its plans to ban kratom using emergency scheduling powers. The DEA instead is opening a public comment period ending December 1st. The official notice indicates that comments received by the DEA will be considered -- along with formal input from the Food and Drug Administration -- before a determination is made about scheduling kratom. The DEA's proposed ban on kratom, a medicinal plant used for millennia in Southeast Asia and currently by millions in the US, was anticipated to go in effect as early as September 30. The DEA retreat came amidst enormous pressure on the agency from the public and lawmakers to halt the ban.

International

France's First Supervised Injection Site is Open for Business. France has now joined a growing list of European countries that operate supervised injection facilities for drug users. After the Socialist government pushed through legislation allowing them last year, the first one in France opened Tuesday near Paris's Gare du Nord train station.

Peru Renews Military Operations in Key Coca Growing Area. The Peruvian government announced last week that it is declaring a 60-day state of emergency in parts of the Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM), a key coca producing region. The area had been under a state of emergency for 30 years until last year, when the government ended it after capturing several Shining Path operatives. But now, the military is back with twin briefs to fight drug trafficking and "narcoterrorism."

Cayman Island Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Bill.Lawmakers in the Caribbean island nation voted Monday to legalize the use of CBD cannabis oil for medicinal purposes. The measure still faces one final vote, and could require some tweaking before such medicines become available. No one in the Cayman Islands produces CBD cannabis oil, and it could be problematic to try to import it from the US because of federal marijuana prohibition.

Chronicle AM: MA Init Leads in New Poll, Iran Ponders End to Drug Death Penalty, More... (10/6/16)

We have Massachusetts legalization news today, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker gets slapped down in his bid to drug test food stamp applicants, Iran's parliament ponders ending the death penalty for drugs, and more.

It looks like another bumper opium harvest next spring in Afghanistan. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Another Massachusetts Poll Has Legalization Initiative Winning. A new Western New England University Polling Institute poll has the Question 4 leading a month out from election day. The poll had support at 55% among all registered voters, with 39% opposed. When it came to likely voters, the initiative's lead shrunk slightly, with 52% in support and 42% opposed.

Massachusetts ACLU Report Highlights Continuing Racial Disparities in Marijuana Arrests. Even after decriminalization, people continue to get arrested for marijuana offenses, especially if they're black, a new ACLU report has found. Black Massachusetts residents were 3.3 times more likely to get popped for pot than white ones even though they use it at the same rate. For marijuana sales offenses, the disparity was even more striking: Blacks were 7.1 times more likely than whites to get busted for peddling pot. "Racial disparities are a disturbing feature of our current marijuana policy. Black people are arrested for marijuana possession at 10 times the rate of white people in some counties -- despite the fact that black people and white people use marijuana at the same rate," ACLU Racial Justice Director Rahsaan Hall says in a prepared statement. "Taxing and regulating marijuana is an important step towards reducing the harm that current policies cause to people of color, particularly Black people, and it will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue that can be reinvested in our communities."

Drug Testing

Federal Court Rejects Wisconsin's Bid to Drug Test Food Stamp Applicants. A federal judge in Washington has rejected a challenge from Gov. Scott Walker (R) to a federal law that blocks states from drug testing food stamp applicants. Walker had challenged the policy last year as he launched a doomed presidential bid, but the federal judge ruled that Wisconsin filed its complaint too soon, before it had actually implemented the policy, and without giving the Obama administration a chance to formally reject it.

International

Afghan Opium Production Expands to Near Record Levels. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Wednesday that opium production this year to one of the highest levels on record. Illicit cultivation has expanded to nearly half a million acres, making it one of the biggest years for poppy since 1994, when the UNODC began estimating the crop size. The all-time record is about 600,000 acres, reported in 2014.

Iraqi Forces Burn ISIS Opium Poppy Crop. Iraqi security forces Wednesday burned a four square acre field planted with opium poppies belonging to ISIS in Salahuddin province. The move was described as an effort to cut ISIS financing through the opium and heroin trade. Iraqi officials said ISIS used laboratories at Mosul University to process the raw opium into heroin.

Iran Moving to End Death Penalty for Drug Offenses. One of the world's leading drug executioners may be about the change its ways. A bill that would end capital punishment for drug trafficking now has the support of a majority in the parliament. If the parliament actually approves the bill, it would have to be ratified by the Guardian Council of Islamic jurists, which has opposed any relaxation of the country's death penalty regime. But executing drug smugglers "will not benefit the people or the country," said Yahya Kamalpur, deputy head of the parliamentary legal and judicial committee. Parliament "wants to eliminate the death penalty for criminals who [smuggle narcotics] out of desperation" and replace it with long prison sentences or hard labor. We are after a scientific and not emotional solution in confronting drug smugglers," he said.

Danes to Consider Bill Easing Marijuana-Impaired Driving Rules. A bill filed in the parliament this week would the country's zero tolerance policy toward drivers with marijuana in their systems in favor of a "stepladder" approach in which the penalty for driving while impaired would depend on the level of marijuana in the driver's system. Under current law, driving with marijuana in one's system can result in the loss of a driver's license for three years. That's too much for bill sponsor Jan Jorgensen of the Liberal Party. "You can actually drive pretty well, even after having smoked hash. There is obviously a limit to how much, but we believe a minimum threshold should be introduced now," he said. "The problem is that we have punished a lot of people who have not been of any danger to traffic at all, simply because they might have smoked marijuana a fortnight ago, and it still could be measured in the blood."

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School