Breaking News:ALERT: House of Representatives Voting on MORE Act This Week!

Source and Transit Countries

RSS Feed for this category

Mexico's Drug Wars Set Bloody Record, ND Legalization Init Suspends Campaign, More... (4/6/20)

The coronavirus pandemic continues to have a deleterious impact on state-level efforts to get marijuana legalization on the November ballot, Mexico's prohibition-related violence sees a record number of deaths, and more.

Mexico's black market drug trade is generating violence at record levels. (Creative Commons)
Arizona Initiative Campaigns Ask State Supreme Court to Okay Electronic Signature Gathering. Several campaigns to put initiatives on the state's November ballot, including the Smart and Safe Arizona Act marijuana legalization initiative, asked the Supreme Court last Thursday to allow electronic signature gathering because the coronavirus pandemic has made in-person petitioning all but impossible. The campaign has already gathered some 320,000 raw signatures and only needs 237,645 valid voter signatures, but wants the ability to gather more to have a larger cushion.

North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Campaign Falls Victim to COVID-19. The Legalize ND marijuana legalization initiative campaign announced last Thursday that it has suspended its signature gathering efforts because of the coronavirus pandemic. "Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked," the group said. "Businesses will continue to collect, but we don't want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn't change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot."

International

Mexico Hit All-Time High in Murders in March. Mexico reported 2,585 homicides -- largely driven by drug prohibition-related violence -- during the month of March, the highest monthly figure since records began in 1997. The surge in killings came as state and federal officials shifted resources into confronting the coronavirus pandemic. "It's business as usual [for drug cartels] with a risk of further escalation, especially if at some point the armed forces are called away for pandemic control," said Falko Ernst, senior Mexico analyst at the International Crisis Group. Violence has been especially intense in the central state of Guanajuato, with cartel gunmen blockading streets, torching businesses, and engaging in shootouts with security forces.

Mexico Cartel Clash in Chihuahua Leaves 19 Dead. The state government of Chihuahua said Saturday that 19 people had been killed in a gun battle between suspected drug cartel hitmen. Local media reported that the clashes were between groups linked to the Juarez Cartel and the rival Sinaloa Cartel. Police found 18 bodies Friday evening at the site of the battle in the municipality of Madera. A wounded man also found at the scene died later of his injuries.

MO and OK Inits Could Fall Victim to Pandemic, COVID-19 Spreads Behind Bars, More... (3/30/20)

The coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on state-level marijuana legalization initiatives, Pennsylvania says needle exchanges are "life-sustaining" during the pandemic, Vancouver moves to allow "safe supply" of regualted drugs during the crisis, and more.

COVID-19 is in the nation's jails and prisons.
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Likely to Fall Victim to Coronavirus Pandemic. Missourians for a New Approach, the folks behind the state's marijuana legalization initiative, are warning that the COVID-19 pandemic will likely mean that the effort will not be able to gather enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The campaign needs 160,000 valid voter signatures by May 3, but at this point has only 60,000 raw signatures. "Yes, it's a terrible setback," said Dan Viets, board chair of the group. "When there's no public gatherings, when people stay in their homes… it's very difficult to find voters."

Oklahoma Marijuana Legalization Initiative in Doubt as State Shuts Down Signature Gathering. The campaign to put a marijuana legalization initiative, State Question 807 is likely to fall victim to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of a 30-day statewide emergency declaration, Secretary of State Mike Rogers has ordered a pause to all initiative signature gathering activities. The campaign needs to collect 178,000 signatures in 90 days to qualify for the November ballot. It would be "really difficult, if not impossible to imagine a scenario in which an initiative petition campaign could responsibly and feasibly collect the signatures necessary in order to make the 2020 ballot if that campaign doesn't already have the signatures on hand," said campaign spokesman Ryan Kiesel.

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Needle Exchanges Are "Life-Sustaining," State Says. Needle exchanges are technically illegal in the state, but the state Department of Health has deemed them a "life-sustaining" service, allowing them to stay open amid the shutdown of other businesses and nonprofits. Some 20 such programs operate in the state, and advocates are hoping this designation could lead to their legalization down the line.

Incarceration

Coronavirus Spread Accelerates in US Jails and Prisons. Jails and prisons across the US are reporting an accelerating spread of COVID-19 with more than 226 inmates and 131 staff with confirmed cases. In New York City alone, at least 132 inmates and 104 jail staff have been infected. Jails and prisons are responding in varying ways, including releasing thousands of inmates from detention, some with little or no screening before they are released.

International

Vancouver Moving to Allow Take-Home Doses of Regulated Drugs. Canada's British Columbia is moving to provide drug users with take-home supplies of regulated substances, including opioids, stimulants, tobacco, and alcohol. Vancouver has long called for "safe supply" for drug users, but the combination of two public health crises -- the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing overdose epidemic -- has finally made it a reality, with the city drafting new guidelines to allow the practice. "These guidelines enable us to provide a safe supply for people and to ensure that they're able to comply with our public-health advice around isolation or quarantine, should that be required," said Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry. Recent changes to the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and provincial prescribing guidelines made the move possible.

Mexican Opium Poppy Cultivation Drops 9%, UNODC Says. The land area under opium poppy cultivation decreased by 9% between July 2017 and June 2018, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Monday. Land under cultivation fell from 78,000 acres to 70,000 acres. Poppy cultivation was centered in the Golden Triangle region of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range, Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua meet, but was also grown in northern Nayarit and in the Sierra Madre del Sur of Guerrero. Analysts said the likely explanation for the decrease was a sharp decline in opium gum prices caused by rising demand for synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.

OR Inits Seek Signatures Online, French Cannabis Prices Rise Fast, More... (3/27/20)

Mexico is unlikely to meet an April 30 deadline to legalize marijuana as its Senate is suspended due to the COVID-19 crisis, Oregon drug decriminalization and therapeutic psilocybin initiatives now are seeking signatures online, and more.

psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms (Greenoid/Flickr)
Drug Policy

Oregon Drug Decriminalization Initiative Moves to Online Signature Gathering. The campaign behind the Oregon Drug Treatment and Recovery Act initiative, which would decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of all drugs, is shifting to online signature gathering as the coronavirus pandemic shuts down normal signature gathering. The campaign says it has already gathered large numbers of signatures, but still needs 8,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. To sign on, click on the link above.

Psychedelics

Oregon Therapeutic Psilocybin Initiative Moves to Online Signature Gathering. The campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes is moving to online signature gathering as the coronavirus pandemic shuts down normal signature gathering. The Oregon Psilocybin Services Act campaign needs 112,000 valid voter signatures by July and says it already has 128,000 raw signatures but wants to create a cushion by adding at least 15,000 more signers. To add your signature, click on this form.

International

France Sees Marijuana, Hash Prices Surge During Coronavirus Lockdown. The price of a 100-gram bar of hashish has nearly doubled in Marseille in a week, thanks to tight border controls imposed as part of the effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Similar reports are coming in from Bordeaux and Rennes. Police worry that a prolonged shortage could fan trouble in restive Paris suburbs and prisons.

Mexico Senate Suspends Activities, Puts Marijuana Legalization Deadline in Doubt. The Senate agreed Thursday to postpone most legislative activity because of the coronavirus pandemic, raising questions about whether it can now comply with a Supreme Court-imposed April 30 deadline to approve marijuana legalization. Senate committees approved a bill earlier this month, but it still needs to pass the full Senate and the Chamber of Deputies and signed into law by the president.

US Indicts Venezuela's Maduro for "Narco-Terrorism," A Call to End Marijuana Arrests, Jailings, More... (3/26/20)

The US indicts a leftist Latin American leader for drug trafficking (but not a rightist one), a Michigan prosecutor gets nailed for embezzling asset forfeiture funds, and more.

The US escalates its feud with Venezuela by indicting President Nicholas Maduro for "narco-terrorism. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Law Enforcement Officials, Medical Professionals, Clergy, and Cannabis Advocates Call for the Cease of Cannabis Arrests and Release of Incarcerated Cannabis Offenders in Light of COVID-19.The Marijuana Policy Project and other organizations are urging law enforcement officials to dramatically curtail arrests for nonviolent crimes, including ceasing arrests for cannabis offenses. In addition to curtailing arrests, the organizations are calling for officials to release or grant clemency to those incarcerated for cannabis offenses along with dramatically reducing the number of incarcerated nonviolent prisoners, whether sentenced or un-sentenced. The Marijuana Policy Project, Last Prisoner Project, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Clergy for a New Drug Policy, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, National Cannabis Industry Association, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) have sent a letter calling for these actions to the National District Attorneys Association, National Governors Association, National Sheriffs' Association, National Association of Chiefs of Police, National Correctional Industries Association, American Correctional Association, and AFSCME.

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Urges Absentee Voting. New Approach South Dakota, the group behind the Constitutional Amendment A marijuana legalization initiative, announced this week is shifting its campaign to social media and urging state residents to consider absentee voting options. Unlike several other state-level legalization initiative campaigns, this one has already qualified for the ballot, so it doesn't have to worry about the coronavirus pandemic's impact on signature-gathering; now it's a matter of getting votes in the midst of the crisis.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Prosecutor Charged with Running Criminal Enterprise for Asset Forfeiture Fund Abuses. Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith has been hit with a slew of criminal charges for allegedly taking funds seized from drug and other suspects for his own personal use. He faces ten charges that include five counts of embezzlement, and single charges of running a criminal enterprise, tampering with evidence, conspiracy to commit forgery, misconduct in office and accessory after the fact. State officials said Smith used the money for a personal security system for his house, country club parties, campaign expenses and to buy flowers and make-up for his secretaries. Smith's former chief of staff, his current chief of operations, and a local businessman were also charged. They're alleged to have embezzled more than $600,000 since 2012.

Foreign Policy

US Indicts Venezuelan President Maduro on "Narco-Terrorism" Charges. Federal prosecutors on Thursday unveiled indictments of President Nicholas Maduro and other top Venezuelan officials on "narco-terrorism" charges in a new escalation of the Trump administration's pressure campaign against Caracas. US Attorney General William Barr accused Maduro and the others of conspiring with a dissident faction of the Colombian FARC guerrillas "to flood the United States with cocaine." Barr's move against Maduro stands in sharp contrast with the US approach to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, a staunch rightist and US ally, whom federal prosecutors have accused of taking bribes from drug traffickers, but who remains unindicted.

Mexico Illicit Drug Prices Rising, OR Regulators Allow Curbside Pot Sales, More... (3/24/20)

States grapple with marijuana sales during a time of crisis, Ghana legalizes hemp and CBD, Mexican traffickers facing chemical shortages are raising prices, and more.

Meth and fentanyl from Mexico are about to get more expensive thanks to the coronavirus crisis. (Warner Robbins, GA, PD)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Governor Shutters Recreational Pot Shops, Lets Medical Marijuana Outlets Remain Open. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has ordered recreational marijuana outlets to close during the coronavirus crisis but has spared medical marijuana dispensaries. The emergency order issued Monday closed all non-essential businesses in the state for at least two weeks. Dispensaries are considered essential; recreational pot shops are not.

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative Rejected for Lack of Signatures. State Attorney General Dave Yost on Monday announced he has rejected a petition for a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana because petitioners did not submit the minimum number of valid signatures required. This was a first step; organizers needed to submit summary language of their amendment along with at least 1,000 valid voter signatures. They didn't do that. "Of the 1,000 minimum signatures required to proceed with the constitutional amendment, those boards of elections reported receiving a total of only 271 valid signatures," Yost said. "Finally, because the petition failed to meet the signature threshold, I have not made any determination concerning the fairness and truthfulness of the proposed summary."

Oregon Regulators Approve Curbside Recreational Marijuana Sales. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which also regulates marijuana, has approved a temporary rule allowing recreational marijuana retailers to sell their products curbside. The rule permits retailers to take orders and deliver marijuana to a customer who is outside and within 150 feet of the licensed premises. The sales can take place only during normal business hours, no earlier than 7:00am and no later than 10:00pm.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Regulators Ease Medical Marijuana Rules Because of Coronavirus. State regulators trying to ensure that patients continue to have access to medical marijuana have removed a cap on the number of patients caregivers can serve and eliminated background checks for caregiver renewal applications. Curbside pickup has also been okayed, as have remote consultations for some practitioners.

International

Ghana Legalizes Hemp, CBD. The parliament has passed a bill legalizing the production of industrial hemp and its use for medicinal as well as commercial purposes. The bill also expands access to drug treatment and medical care and marks a shift from treating addiction as a legal issue to a public health issue.

Mexican Meth, Fentanyl Traffickers Raise Prices Amid Shortages of Precursor Chemicals. With supplies of Chinese precursor chemicals running low because of disruptions related to the coronavirus pandemic, Mexican drug traffickers are raising wholesale illicit drug prices. The Sinaloa Cartel is reportedly increasing the wholesale price of a pound of meth from $100 to $600. The price of fentanyl is also going up, although not yet as dramatically. Wholesale prices for a pound have reportedly increased from $35,000 to $42,000.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sentencing

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

Foreign Policy

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drug Policy

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

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

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Foreign Policy

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drug Policy

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

Harm Reduction

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

International

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

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

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, Vaping, 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, Safer 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