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Chronicle AM: Decriminalize Nature Hits DC, Colombia Coca Eradication Fight, More... (1/10/20)

Vermont lawmakers begin a push to tax and regulate marijuana sales, the Decriminalize Nature movement arrives in the nation's capital, Colombia's president and governors disagree about aerial eradication of coca crops, and more.

Will Washington, DC, deprioritize magic mushrooms and other natural psychedelics? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Lawmakers Push for Legal Marijuana Sales. Lawmakers who want to pass a law to tax and regulate marijuana sales in the state held a news conference Thursday to urge the legislature to move forward on a bill that passed the Senate last year. It has not been acted on in the House, and proponents are hoping it will move in the next few months. Proponents are hopeful a bill can be acted upon with the next few months.

Law Enforcement

West Virginia Governor Creates Narcotics Intelligence Unit. Gov. Jim Justice (D) issued an executive order Thursday creating the West Virginia Narcotics Intelligence Unit to crack down on drug trafficking. The unit will be under the state Department of Military Affairs (!) and Public Safety's Intelligence Fusion Center. "Tonight I am ordering Secretary Jeff Sandy to form a new unit called a Narcotics Intelligence Unit -- a new unit at the Fusion Center -- it will be a strike force," Justice said. "I'm going to ask you for $1.9 million and I'm going to ask you to give us that to stop this terrible effort. That's all there is to it."

Psychedelics

DC Group Wants to Decriminalize Magic Mushrooms, Natural Psychedelics. A group calling itself Decriminalize Nature DC is beginning an effort to reduce penalties for the use, possession, and cultivation of magic mushrooms and other natural psychedelics. Members are working on a ballot initiative that would ask Metro police to make enforcement of drug laws against psychedelics the lowest law enforcement priority. The DC Board of Elections will weigh in next month on whether the language violates a congressional ban on easing any laws regarding Schedule I substances.

International

Colombia Says It Eradicated a Quarter Million Acres of Coca Crops. President Ivan Duque announced Tuesday that Colombia had eradicated 247,000 of coca fields in 2019. That's up from about 200,000 acres eradicated in 2018. "From now on we will without a doubt face the challenge of re-planting, but Colombia has clear its goal to reduce by 50% the area that is planted with illegal crops by the end of 2022 or 2023," Duque said in a televised statement. The government used manual eradication teams to destroy the crops but wants to return to the aerial spraying of herbicides, a practice ended in 2015.

Colombia Governors Reject Plans to Resume Aerial Spraying of Coca Crops. The governors of Colombia's coca growing provinces have come out against the government's plans to resume aerial spraying of coca crops. The governors of Antioquia, Narino, Cauca, Putumayo, and Norte de Santander said they supported alternative development and voluntary crop substitution and want President Duque to implement the 2016 peace deal with demobilized FARC guerrillas.

The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2019 [FEATURE]

(See our Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2019 feature here.)

We're looking at 2019 through the rearview mirror now, but before we turn our sights to 2020, it's worth taking a few moments to look back at the last year in international drug policy. From marijuana law reform to the push for drug decriminalization, from the coca fields of Colombia to the poppy fields of Afghanistan, and from the killing fields of Mexico and the Philippines, there was a lot going on. Here are ten of the biggest international drug policy stories of 2019, in no particular order.

Medical marijuana was on the move in 2019 -- sort of -- at the UN's Vienna headquarters.
1. Marijuana Legalization and Decriminalization Advances

The wall of marijuana prohibition continued to crumble in 2019, albeit at an achingly slow pace.

A lot of the activity was in Europe. In March, Switzerland announced plans to let up to 5,000 people legally smoke marijuana in pilot studies aimed at shaping rules for recreational use of the drug.

In the Netherlands, the government finally moved in August to address the longstanding "backdoor problem," where marijuana is allowed to be sold but there is no legal source of supply. It announced a pilot program to begin in 2021 in which cannabis cafes in ten Dutch cities will be supplied with legally grown marijuana. The big cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam opted out because of worries that problems could arise if they all abandoned their illicit suppliers simultaneously.

In Denmark, the city council in Copenhagen, the country's capital and largest city, voted overwhelmingly in August to support a pilot program that would see marijuana sold legally across the city. The council has long pushed for this, but now there is a new left-wing government, so perhaps it will be allowed to happen.

Also in August, Luxembourg looked set to become the first European country to free the weed, as the government confirmed plans to legalize it, saying that residents 18 and over should be able to use and purchase it within two years. In December, though, the government said it will still be at least two years, citing "delays in working on policy related to the legislation."

And just at year's end, in Italy, the Supreme Court ruled that the small-scale personal cultivation of marijuana is legal, triggering calls for further legalization. The court declared that laws against growing drug crops should not apply to "small amounts grown domestically for the exclusive use of the grower."

And Israel decriminalized marijuana possession as of April 1. Possession of small amounts of marijuana in private homes is no longer to be treated as an offense, criminal or otherwise, while public possession will generate a fine of around $275, with that fine doubling for a second offense within five years. Only people who commit a third public possession offense within seven years will face the possibility of criminal prosecution.

In Australia, Canberra, the national capital, became the first city in the country to legalize marijuana personal use and cultivation. The law legalizes up to 50 grams and two plants per person, but not sales. It is set to go into effect on January 31, 2020, but conflicts with national marijuana prohibition, so stay tuned. And in nearby New Zealand, the governing coalition announced in May it would hold a binding referendum on marijuana legalization during the 2020 elections. In December, it unveiled a government web site with information on the proposed legalization bill that will be put before the voters.

In the Western hemisphere, Uruguay and Canada have led the way on marijuana legalization, but Mexico looks set to be the next over the line. After legislators there failed to pass legalization by a Supreme Court-imposed deadline at the end of October, the court gave them an extension until June 1 to get it done. Lawmakers got very close late in 2019 but were unable to close the deal because of disputes among competing business interests. There was action in Colombia, too, where an opposition senator filed a legalization bill in August. That bill is reportedly backed by former President Juan Manuel Santos, but it is the votes of the Liberal Party that will determine whether it advances.

There was progress in the Caribbean, too. In Trinidad & Tobago, non-commercial marijuana legalization went into effect in December, allowing people to possess up to 30 grams and grow four plants. A regulated marijuana marketplace is likely coming in 2020. In St. Kitts and Nevis,the government in midsummer filed a bill to legalize marijuana for "medicinal and scientific, religious, and recreational purposes." It remains pending at year's end. A similar effort is underway in the British Virgin Islands, where a draft bill to legalize marijuana is being reviewed by government officials.

2. Medical Marijuana on the Move

Acceptance of medical marijuana on the global stage continued to increase in 2019, and the year got off to a good start in January when the Israeli Cabinet gave final approval to exports, making it the third country, after Canada and the Netherlands, to do so. The following month, the European Parliament approved a resolution to advance medical marijuana in countries that form the European Union.

Meanwhile, Thailand formally embraced medical marijuana when King Maha Vajirlongkorn signed a decree legalizing it and kratom; and later in the year, a member of the country's ruling coalition government filed a bill that would allow people to grow up to six plants for personal medicinal use. And in the Philippines, a bill to legalize medical marijuana was reintroduced in 2019. Similar bills have been filed each year since 2014. Last year, the bill passed the lower house but failed to get out of the Senate.

In Latin America, Peru joined the ranks of medical marijuana countries more than a year after it became law when the government finally approved regulations to cover its production and use. In Mexico, the Supreme Court in August gave the federal health ministry until January to issue regulations on medical marijuana.

In the Caribbean, in August, Barbados introduced legislation to establish the legal foundation for a local medical marijuana industry, joining Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines as well as Antigua and Barbuda in approving marijuana cultivation.

Medical marijuana was sort of on the move at the United Nations too. In late January, the World Health Organization recommended the removal of marijuana from Schedule IV of the global drug treaties, the most restrictive category, along with other related reclassifications of substances involving marijuana's components or synthetic substitutes for them. This would stop short of the kind of full stamp of approval WHO gives to many drugs -- marijuana would not become an "essential medicine" -- but it would eliminate a designation that some governments might find constraining in terms of allowing medical use in their own countries. Most importantly, it would be widely seen as recognition by the UN of marijuana as a medicine (though international law does not ban medical use of marijuana now).

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs -- the subset of UN member states that sets drug policy for the UN -- was supposed to vote on the WHO recommendations during its March meeting, but that didn't happen because the recommendations were delayed at the end of 2018, leaving several countries to complain that they needed more time to study them.

"You can't arrest your way out of a drug problem." So why not try decriminalization? (Creative Commons)
3. Drug Decriminalization on the Move

Beyond marijuana legalization, the decriminalization of drug use and possession is probably the most significant means within current political striking range for reducing the criminal justice harms of drug prohibition. Portugal, which decriminalized in 2001, remains a shining example to emulate.

In Canada, in May, the House of Commons Health Committee called on the federal government to study Portugal's drug decriminalization and see how the model could be "positively applied in Canada." The following month, British Columbia nurses called urgently for decriminalization, but in September, as he campaigned for reelection, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said decriminalization was not on the agenda, even though the national Liberal Party caucus in 2018 passed a resolution calling to "reclassify low-level drug possession and consumption as administrative violations" rather than criminal ones. The conversation is advancing north of the border.

The conversation is also advancing in the United Kingdom, where the Scottish National Party formally endorsed drug decriminalization, as did the British Parliament's Health and Social Care Committee and Parliament's Scottish Affairs Committee. Britain's leading medical journal, The Lancet, came out hard for decriminalization in a special drugs issue released in October. The following month, Britain's largest drug treatment providers called for radical drug policy reforms, including decrim. But the ruling Conservative Party with Boris Johnson freshly installed as prime minister, remains opposed -- for now.

It's not just Canada and Great Britain, either. In Mexico, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in May submitted a decriminalization plan to Congress, while in Malaysia, the government announced in June that it planned to drop criminal penalties for drug use and possession. The following month, in Colombia, the legislative opposition and the center-right block filed a bill to decriminalize there.

In Australia, the New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry into Ice (methamphetamine) released recommendations in October calling for harm reduction approaches and decriminalization. In the United States, an effort to put a decrim initiative on the 2020 Oregon ballot got underway in the fall, and a national movement to decriminalize psychedelics got underway.

The push to decriminalize is also working its way through the global drug control bureaucracy, as was evident in March when a key UN organization called for global drug decriminalization. The UN Chief Executives Board (CEB), representing 31 UN agencies including the Office on Drugs and Crime, adopted a position calling on member states to adopt science-based, health-oriented approaches to drug policy -- namely decriminalization. The policy shift -- or rather, recognition of what the policies of UN agencies on this already were -- came in January but was not publicly announced.

4. Harm Reduction and Human Rights

Along with decriminalization, harm reduction and concern about human rights gained momentum in 2019.

In March, a coalition of UN Member States, UN entities and leading human rights experts meeting at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna launched a landmark set of international legal standards around drug policy: the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy. The following month, more than 300 NGOs called for harm reduction and drug decriminalization at the 26th International Harm Reduction Conference in Lisbon.

In the United Kingdom, both the British Labour Party and Parliament's Scottish Affairs Committee called for safe injection sites, while in Ireland, a Dublin safe injection site was moving closer to reality at year's end.

In Australia, the New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry into Ice (methamphetamine) recommended harm reduction approaches in October, and the New Zealand government in December announced a pilot program to examine pill-testing at festivals, marking the first time such a study will have been done in the country.

5. Mexico Ravaged by Prohibition-Related Violence for Another Year

In January, Mexican authorities reported that the number of murders in 2018 hit an all-time high with more than 33,000, many of them directly linked to violence among competing drug cartels and between cartels and the state. A lot happened between then and now, but at the end of 2019, this year's death toll was at just under 32,000. At least it didn't get worse, but those numbers are still horrifying, and the year-old administration of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador hasn't been able to turn the corner yet. It's not for lack of trying or willingness to embrace new ideas.

In February, the Mexican Senate approved a plan for a new National Guard to fight crime and drug trafficking, but only after amending it to ensure that the new security force is headed by civilians, not the military, which has been linked to numerous human rights violations.

In May, Lopez Obrador called for an end to Plan Merida, under which the US provided security assistance to fight the drug war, with the president saying he wants the US to end the anti-drug Merida Initiative and instead invest in economic development in southern Mexico and Central America. Saying the plan "hasn't worked," Lopez Obrador added that, "We don't want cooperation on the use of force, we want cooperation on economic development. We don't want the so-called Merida Initiative."

In June, the murder rate topped 2,000 a month for this first time, a toll linked to the rise of the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which is seeking to supplant the Sinaloa cartel formerly headed by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who is now serving a sentence in the US. In north-central Guanajuato state, the JNGC has been duking it out with yet another faction, the Santa Rose de Lima cartel, leaving more than 3,200 dead in that state alone by year's end.

By August, a Catholic bishop issued a call for dialogue between the government and armed groups, including drug cartels. That was Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoza of Chilpancingo-Chilapa (Guerrero state), a key opium-growing region. Responding to the government's announcement that it was in talks with so-called community police groups and self-defense militias, but not the cartels, the bishop chided the government, saying, "To get peace you have to dialogue, even with Satan, with whomever it might be to get peace."

As cartel clashes raged through the summer and fall, the government tentatively explored alternatives to continuing drug war. In September, Lopez Obrador said he was considering a referendum on drug legalization, and in October, the ruling MORENA Party's leader in the Chamber of Deputies, Mario Delgado Carrillo, proposed legalizing all drugs to combat cartel violence. His comments were in response to one of the more brazen cartel actions in 2019, when Sinaloa Cartel gunmen forced the release of El Chapo's son after he was captured by security forces in the cartel heartland city of Culiacan and they turned the city into a war zone until Ovidio Guzman was freed, greatly embarrassing the government.

That same month, in another brazen attack, gun men from the JNGC ambushed police in Michoacan, killing more than a dozen and leaving signed placards on their bodies warning police not to support rival crime groups, such as Los Viagras.

In yet another act of gruesome violence -- and one that caught the attention of Americans long bored with the violence south of the border -- in November, cartel gun men killed nine women and children with dual US-Mexico citizenship, prompting President Trump to suggest he could use the US military to "wage war" against the cartels. Lopez Obrador declined that offer [Ed: wisely, for them and for us].

6. Coca, Cocaine and Chaos in Colombia

According to both the UN and the US, Colombia accounted for around 70% of global cocaine production in 2017, when the country produced 1,275 tons of cocaine, the most ever. In 2018, production declined by a tiny percentage, but remained near record high levels. There are no figures available yet for 2019, but there is no reason to suspect much has changed.

The high levels of coca cultivation and cocaine production have made a return to aerial spraying of coca crops a key goal of the rightist government of President Ivan Duque, who in March asked the Constitutional Court to ease restrictions on spraying, which President Juan Manuel Santos banned after the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as a likely carcinogen. That position won the support of US Secretary of State Pompeo in June, when, ignoring the global criticism of glyphosate and any other strategies for reducing cultivation, he called spraying "an important tool they need" to reduce coca production.

But in July, the Constitutional Court upheld the ban, although it also said spraying could resume if the government met certain conditions. At the end of December, the government announced plans to resume spraying, publishing a draft law that would allow fumigation flights under supervision of the national police. The proposal also calls for the creation of an independent agency that would oversee complaints related to aerial spraying including any potential impacts on rural communities.

Meanwhile three years after a peace deal between former President Santos and the leftist guerrillas of the FARC was signed, violence and chaos in the countryside are increasing. In March, coca farmers clashed with police in Cordoba, saying they were returning to coca after two years of waiting for economic and security assistance that never arrived. In April, a UN report found massacres on the increase, reflecting new criminal dynamics in key areas of the country.

In June, the government reported a jump in murders, driven largely by battles for control over coca-growing areas that had previously been controlled by the leftist the FARC, leaving FARC dissidents, other guerrilla groups, and criminal drug trafficking groups fighting over who will control the fields. And in August, a new report from Human Rights Watch found that renewed fighting over control of the cocaine trade in the Catatumbo region had forced some 40,000 people to flee their homes. Human Rights Watch accused the Colombian government of "not meeting its obligations" to protect civilians in the area.

And speaking of the FARC, they're back. In June, a military intelligence report said as many as a third of FARC fighters had picked up their guns again. They were joining dissident FARC groups operating in coca-growing regions. Disarmed FARC rebels were supposed to have been reintegrated into society, but that has been stymied by violence and discrimination. At least 139 former FARC members have been killed since disarming.

A couple of month later, FARC dissidents made it official. In August, dissident FARC leaders announced they were rejoining the path of armed struggle. Three years after an historic peace agreement between the leftist guerrillas of the FARC and the Colombian state, the dissidents said that the rightist government of President Ivan Duque had betrayed the peace accord. Led Ivan Marquez (Luciano Marin), they said they were ready for a "new stage of fightingm," citing the murders of more than a hundred former FARC members and labor activists, as well as the government's failure to provide sustainable development assistance to areas formerly under their control. "The state has not fulfilled its most important obligation, which is to guarantee the life of its citizens and especially avoid assassinations for political reasons," said Marquez. The number of dissidents affiliated with Marquez is estimated at around 2,000-3,000. The civil war with the FARC that began in 1964 left more than 220,000 people dead.

President Duque also faces challenges to his hardline approach to drug policy in both the courts and the congress. The Constitutional Court threw out his ban on public pot smoking and drinking, meaning police can no longer confiscate drugs considered to be for personal consumption, and people are again allowed to smoke marijuana and drink beer in public. But it's unclear whether Duque will abide by the ruling.

And in June, the legislative opposition and a center-right bloc filed a package of four bills that seek to decriminalize drug use and ban glyphosate, the chemical the government wants to use to fumigate coca. What opposition lawmakers want is to curb drug abuse by strengthening health care and to fight drug trafficking via voluntary crop substitution and rural development.

Bolivia's coca grower president, Evo Morales, was forced from office late in 2019. (Creative Commons)
7. Farewell to Bolivia's Coca Grower President

Long-time Bolivian leader Evo Morales, a former coca growers union leader who won the presidency in 2005 and was reelected twice was forced from office and fled the country after extended protests in the wake of disputed elections in November. Morales resigned after he lost the support of the military, which called on him to quit after weeks of sometimes violent protests.

As president, Morales broke with US drug policy in the region and legalized the production of coca in the country. He also lifted millions of Bolivians out of poverty, through heavy investments in public works projects. He began to lose support after ignoring a referendum calling on him not to run again, which had followed a series of controversies and scandals. Chaos escalated after an unexplained 24-hour delay in vote-counting before he was declared the victor. The country is now ruled by an interim hard right regime, but elections are supposed to happen in the next three months.

8. Philippines Drug War Faces International Pushback

The international community turned up the heat on Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte and his bloody drug war in 2019, but Duterte was undeterred.

In 2018, the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination into human rights abuses in the drug war, and that March, Duterte responded by quitting the ICC. But the ICC said its preliminary investigation into Filipino drug war abuses would continue. In December 2019 the ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that the examination was in the "very late stages," and that a decision on whether to open an investigation would be made during 2020.

In April, human rights advocates and harm reductionists rallied against the Philippine drug war at the 26th Harm Reduction International Conference in Porto, Portugal. "The Philippine government's barbaric campaign against the drug trade is severely harming the health and security of its communities. The evidence that punitive drug policies don't work is irrefutable. People around the world have sent a clear message to the government today -- stop the killings and invest in the health and human rights of your people," Naomi Burke-Shyne, Harm Reduction International executive director, said.

In June, the Philippines National Police put the drug war's official death toll at 6,600, up from just under 5,000 seven months earlier. Human rights groups put the toll much higher, some as high as 30,000, with killings divided between police and shadowy vigilante groups.

That same month, UN experts called for a human rights probe of the Philippines drug war. A group of 11 United Nations human rights experts called or the UN's Human Rights Council to start an independent probe into rights violations in the Philippines, including illegal killings in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody crackdown on drugs. The call gained momentum when a group of two dozen countries called for a UN investigation of drug war killings. A draft resolution submitted by Iceland and supported mainly by West European countries urged the government to halt extrajudicial executions and called on the UN Human Rights Council to address the crisis. And a major report from Amnesty International on drug war atrocities added fuel to the fire.

In July, the full UN Human Rights Council voted to begin an investigation into the mass killings. The Duterte government responded by refusing to grant the UN access to the country to investigate the killings and other human rights abuses. And Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin called the UN experts "bastards."

In November, representatives from 51 countries called for the Philippines to "STOP THE KILLINGS" at the Drug Policy Alliance's International Drug Policy Reform Conference in St. Louis. "With the world watching, we felt compelled to use our platform to draw attention to the horrendous crimes taking place every day in the Philippines, with the full-throated support of that country's president," said Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "The Philippines is a stark example of how the drug war can so easily serve as an excuse for targeting vulnerable people, and harassing critics, and punishing opponents."

Also in November, Duterte engaged in some political flim-flam when he named strong drug war critic Vice President Leni Robredo as drug czar, then fired her less than three weeks later. Duterte accused Robredo of embarrassing the country by drawing international attention to his bloody war on drugs. But Robredo vowed to carry on the fight. "When I took this job, I asked you, are you ready for me? My question to you now is what are you afraid of? Are you afraid of what I might discover? Are you afraid of what the public might discover?," Robredo said at a news conference. "If they think I will stop here, then they don't know me, I am just starting," Robredo said.

"They cannot remove my determination to stop the killings and hold those responsible to account and win the fight against illegal drugs."

Meanwhile, another prominent political figure and drug war critic, Senator Leila de Lima remains behind bars, where she has been since arrested on bogus drug charges in February 2017. But she got some support from the US Congress late this year. In two separate moves in December, the Senate approved a Free Leila resolution (Senate Resolution 42) and approved a State Department spending bill that includes a provision barring entry "to foreign government officials about whom the Secretary has credible information have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment of Senator Leila de Lima."

The Duterte government has responded in typical fashion: It has now denied entry to three US senators, Ed Markey (D-MA), who authored the de Lima resolution, and Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

9. Sri Lanka and the Death Penalty for Drugs

Under the baleful influence of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, now former Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena early in the year announced plans to end a 43-year moratorium on the death penalty so drug offenders could be executed, kicking off his campaign with an advertisement announcing job vacancies for executioners. In April, Sirisena announced the first executions would be coming soon as he presided over the burning of seized cocaine.

"To curb the illegal drug menace, it is necessary to implement the death penalty," he said. "The death penalty will be implemented in the coming days. The list has been prepared and we have decided on the date too."

But with the country in shock after the Easter Islamic terror attacks that left more than 200 people dead, Sirisena had other issues on his mind -- although in July, Sirisena falsely blamed drug gangs for the attacks, saying they were designed to discredit his anti-drug drive.

Sirisena's blood lust has so far been thwarted by the courts. In June, the Supreme Court delayed the execution of four people set to be hanged in October for drug offenses.

In October, as Sirisena's term was running out, his plans to make the executions his last act of state was again thwarted, with the Supreme Court again staying the executions until March 20, 2020. Now it will be up to newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaska to decide whether to continue Sirsena's aberration.

10. The Extent of the US's Drug War Fiasco in Afghanistan Becomes Achingly Apparent

In late October, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) issued its latest report on the seemingly endless US occupation of Afghanistan, and its analysis of American anti-opium efforts was particularly devastating. SIGAR found that although we've spent nearly $9 billion trying to suppress the opium poppy, Afghanistan remained far and away the world's largest opium producer throughout the US occupation.

The country produced a record high nine tons of opium in 2017, and although drought reduced last year's crop, SIGAR noted that "it remained at the second-highest level since the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) began monitoring it in 1994."

When it comes to suppressing illicit drug crops, there are three main approaches: eradication, interdiction and alternative development. According to the new SIGAR report, all three have proven ineffectual in Afghanistan. Interdiction activities -- drug busts -- have "minimal impact on the country's opium cultivation and production," SIGAR found, while eradication efforts "have had minimal impact on curbing opium-poppy cultivation." Alternative development was funded at low levels, and SIGAR found it "ineffectual at curbing opium cultivation."

Whew, that's pretty bad, but it gets worse. This month, the Washington Post published The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War, an extensive piece of investigative reporting that showed US officials consistently lied about making progress in the war even though they knew they weren't. The papers contain a section on opium, "Overwhelmed by Opium," that makes a thoroughly depressing read as it documents the myriad ways US anti-drug policy imploded. "Of all the failures in Afghanistan, the war on drugs has been perhaps the most feckless," the Post noted. That's saying something.

Chronicle AM: IL Legal Marijuana Sales Begin, FDA Bans Flavored Vape Cartridges, More... (1/2/20)

Legal marijuana sales get underway in Illinois, the Italian Supreme Court gives the okay to personal marijuana cultivation, Colombia wants to resume aerial spraying of coca crops with herbicides, and more.

People lined up by the hundreds in Chicago on New Year's Day to buy state-legal marijuana. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Initiative Campaign Sues Over Early Deadline. The Make It Legal Florida marijuana legalization initiative campaign filed a lawsuit Tuesday charging that the state's new law regarding initiatives violates their rights by imposing a "stealth deadline" that effectively shortens the signature gathering period by a month. The campaign is seeking another month to submit petition signatures. The campaign has until February 1 to come up with 766,000 valid voter signatures, but says the new law creates a "stealth deadline" of January 2 to submit signatures to county supervisors for verification.

Illinois Governor Pardons 11,000 Marijuana Offenders Just Ahead of Legalization. Gov. JB Pritzker (D) on Tuesday issued more than 11,000 pardons to people with low-level marijuana possession convictions. The move came one day ahead of the commencement of legal marijuana sales in the state.

Illinois Marijuana Legalization, Sales Now in Effect. The first legal marijuana sales in the state began at 6:00am New Year's Day, with hundreds of people lined up at shops in Chicago and its suburbs. That makes Illinois the 11th state to legalize marijuana, and the first to also legalize sales through the legislative process as opposed to via an initiative.

Oklahoma Activists File Revised 2020 Marijuana Legalization Measure to Protect Medical Program. The activists behind a marijuana legalization initiative filed in December have withdrawn it and replaced it with a new initiative, State Question 808, that contains revised language aimed at protecting the state's existing medical marijuana program. The new initiative specifies that a 15% excise tax on sales would not apply to medical marijuana and says only existing medical marijuana dispensaries would be eligible for recreational licenses for the first two years after implementation.

Virginia Prosecutor Announces His Office Will Not Pursue Marijuana Possession Cases. Incoming Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Steve Descano used his first day on the job Thursday to announce that his office will not prosecute low-level marijuana possession cases. But the local judiciary is not cooperating: One judge has already rejected Descano's guidance and denied a motion to dismiss one such case, saying each case needs to be reviewed individually.

Vaping

FDA Announces Ban on Flavored Vaping Cartridges. The US Food and Drug Administration on Thursday issued a policy prioritizing enforcement against certain unauthorized flavored e-cigarette products that appeal to kids, including fruit and mint flavors. Under this policy, companies that do not cease manufacture, distribution and sale of unauthorized flavored cartridge-based e-cigarettes (other than tobacco or menthol) within 30 days risk FDA enforcement actions. The only vaping cartridges that will be allowed are those with tobacco and menthol flavors.

International

Colombia Proposes Resumption of Aerial Spraying of Coca Fields. The Ministry of Justice on Monday published a draft law that would allow for the aerial spraying of herbicides on coca fields. The previous government ended such spraying four years ago, citing health concerns. The new proposal also calls for the creation of an independent agency that would oversee complaints related to aerial spraying including any potential impacts on rural communities.

Italian Supreme Court Rules Growing a Little Marijuana at Home Not a Crime. The Supreme Court ruled on December 27 that growing small amounts of marijuana for personal use is not a crime. The court held that "at home, small-scale cultivation activities are to be considered excluded from the application of the penal code." It's unclear just what qualifies as "small-scale cultivation." The case before the court involved two plants.

Chronicle AM: Joe Biden's Muddy Marijuana Policy Message, Peru Coca Eradication Gearing Up, More... (9/13/19)

Joe Biden muddies the waters on his marijuana policy, Copenhagen is moving toward a pilot progeram of legal marijuana sales, Peru prepares to go after coca crops in a lawless region, and more.

Joe Biden. Where, exactly, is he on marijuana policy? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan House Bill to Reschedule Marijuana Filed. Florida US Reps. Donna Shalala (D) and Matt Gaetz (R) filed a bill Thursday aimed at reducing barriers to marijuana research by moving it from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act. The Expanding Cannabis Research and Information Act is identical companion legislation to a bill filed by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) in July, S. 2400.

Joe Biden Says Marijuana Offenses Should Be Misdemeanors, But Without Jail Time. During Thursday night's Democratic presidential debate, former Vice President Joe Biden muddied the waters by saying marijuana offenses should be treated as misdemeanors, even though he has earlier called for decriminalization. Many other candidates are calling for legalization. Here's what Biden said: "Nobody who got in prison for marijuana, for example -- immediately upon being released, they shouldn't be in there." he said. "That should be a misdemeanor. They should be out and their record should be expunged. Every single right should be returned," he said. "When you finish your term in prison, you should be able to not only vote but have access to Pell grants, have access to be able to get housing, have access to be able to move along the way."

International

Denmark's Capital City Moves toward Legal Marijuana. The Copenhagen city council overwhelmingly supports a pilot program that would see marijuana sold legally across the city. The city has long been prepared to move down this path, but had been stymied by a conservative national government. But now, left-wing parties won an overall majority in elections this summer. The new health minister, Magnus Heunicke, doesn't endorse the scheme, but the city council is moving forward anyway. Under the proposed plan, a half dozen or so marijuana dispensaries would operate in the city.

Peru to Start Eradicating Coca Crops in the VRAEM. For the first time, Peruvian security forces will attempt to eradicate illicit coca plants in the country's largest coca growing area, the Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM), the government announced Thursday. Starting November 1, authorities will undertake a 45-day operation aiming to eradicate some 1,800 acres of coca crops, and they are vowing to intensify such operations next year. The region produced some 60,000 acres of coca in 2017, according to the UN. Although the region has been in a state of emergency for decades, recent governments have declined to send in coca eradication teams for fear of a violent backlash from coca farmers and remnants of the Shining Path guerrillas who have morphed into drug traffickers.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Feds Warn on Marijuana Health Risks, Philly Drug Test Backlog, More... (8/30/19)

Federal officials issue a warning on marijuana for teens and pregnant women, the Philadelphia DA deals with a drug sample testing crisis, Colombian FARC dissidents pick up their guns again, and more.

A Dutch cannabis cafe. A pilot program to begin in 2021 will see legal suppliers for the shops in 10 cities. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Officials Issue Warning on Marijuana for Teens, Pregnant Women. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned jointly Thursday against marijuana use by adolescents and pregnant women. Azar, a former pharmaceutical company executive, called marijuana "a dangerous drug," while Adams warned that "this isn't your mother's marijuana" because of higher THC levels.

Oklahoma Poll Shows State Not Ready to Support Legalization. State voters approved medical marijuana last year, but a new poll suggests legalization may be a bridge too far. A new SoonerPoll found that 59% opposed legalization for non-medical use, with 50.5% strongly opposed.

Law Enforcement

Philadelphia Drug Sample Testing Backlog Means DA Will Prosecute Fewer Low-Level Cases. Faced with a backlog of thousands of untested drug samples, District Attorney Larry Krasner's office has announced an "emergency protocol" to suspend the automatic testing of new samples for low-level drug cases. That means the number of low-level drug cases the DA's office prosecutes each year should be reduced because without testing to prove beyond reasonable doubt that a white powder is actually a controlled substance, prosecutors have no case.

International

Colombia FARC Dissidents Take Up Arms Again. Three years after an historic peace agreement between the leftist guerrillas of the FARC and the Colombian state, dissident FARC leaders announced Thursday that they were rejoining the path of armed struggle. Saying the rightist government of President Ivan Duque has betrayed the accord, the dissidents led by Ivan Marquez (Luciano Marin) said they were ready for a "new stage of fighting." They cited the murders of more than a hundred former FARC members and labor activists, as well as the government's failure to provide sustainable development assistance to areas formerly under their control. "The state has not fulfilled its most important obligation, which is to guarantee the life of its citizens and especially avoid assassinations for political reasons," Marquez. Marquez said his group would work with the ELN, another leftist guerrilla army. The number of dissidents affiliated with Marquez is estimated at around 2-3,000. The civil war with the FARC that began in 1964 left more than 220,000 people dead.

Ten Dutch Cities Will Participate in Legal Marijuana Supply Pilot Program. Beginning in 2021, cannabis cafes in 10 Dutch cities will be supplied with legally grown marijuana under a pilot program aimed at solving the country's "back door problem," where marijuana is allowed to be sold but there is no legal source of supply. The ten cities selected for the program are Arnhem, Almere, Breda, Groningen, Heerlen, Hellevoetsluis, Maastricht, Nijmegen, Tilburg and Zaanstad. In those towns, all cannabis cafes must obtain their supply from legally regulated growers. That's why bigger cities such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam opted out: They have large numbers of cannabis cafes and authorities worry problems could arise if they all abandoned their illicit suppliers simultaneously.

Chronicle AM: Outside Lands Festival to Allow Pot, Colombia Cocaine Conflicts Creating Refugees, More... (8/9/19)

There will be legal pot smoking at Outside Lands in San Francisco this weekend, the Trump administration moves forward with plans to allow drug testing of unemployment recipients, fighting over coca farms and cocaine smuggling routes in Colombia is generating large refugee flows, and more.

Prohibition-related violence in Colombia's cocaine trade is generating tens of thousands of refugees. (Pixelbay)
Marijuana Policy

Outside Lands Becomes First Major US Music Festival to (Officially) Allow Marijuana. San Francisco's Outside Lands music festival, set for this weekend, will allow marijuana sales and consumption, making it the largest music festival of its size to do so. Some 200,000 people attended last year. Final approval from the state Bureau of Cannabis Control came on Wednesday.

Medical Marijuana

DC Will Now Accept Medical Marijuana Cards from Any State. In a press release Thursday, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced that the District will now accept medical marijuana cards from any US state. "Non-residents needing their medication while they are visiting the District will be able to patronize the District's regulated marijuana dispensaries and obtain their medication," the press release said. Previously, the District recognized 19 other states' medical cards. Now, at least 27 states' cards will be recognized by the District's dispensaries.

Drug Testing

Labor Department Rule to Allow States to Drug Test Unemployment Recipients Now Under Review at White House. The White House budget office is reviewing a final Department of Labor rule that would allow states to drug test unemployment insurance recipients. The rule would allow states to drug test applicants in occupations where the employer "regularly conducts drug testing."

International

Colombia Cocaine Trade Fighting Generates Tens of Thousands of Refugees. According to a new report from Human Rights Watch, illegal armed groups fighting for control over the lucrative cocaine trade have forced some 40,000 people to flee their homes in the country's Catatumbo region near the Venezuelan border. The groups are fighting over territory armed by the former leftist guerillas of the FARC, who laid down their arms in a peace accord in 2016. The three groups named by Human Rights Watch are the Popular Liberation Army, the National Liberation Army, and a small group of FARC dissidents. Human Rights Watch accused the Colombian government of "not meeting its obligations" to protect civilians in the area.

Chronicle AM: US & China Spar Over Fentanyl, Honduran President Named Trafficking Conspirator, More... (8/5/19)

Federal prosecutors accuse the president of Honduras of participating in a drug trafficking conspiracy, the US and China squabble over fentanyl, Colombia coca production declined slightly last year, and more.

The Trump administration and China are sparring over fentanyl exports and who is responsible for the opioid crisis. (CC)
Medical Marijuana

Iowa Panel Backs Including Chronic Pain, But Not PTSD, Opioid Dependency. The Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Board last Friday approved a recommendation to add chronic pain as a qualifying condition under the state's medical marijuana law. But the board drew criticism from patients advocates for not making the same recommendation regarding PTSD, opioid dependency, and other medical conditions. The board could revisit the issue in November if more data or research is available.

Nebraska Attorney General Argues Legalizing Medical Marijuana Is Unconstitutional. State Attorney General Doug Peterson (R) issued an opinion last Thursday saying federal law preempts state medical marijuana laws and that an effort to legalize medical marijuana in the state "would be, therefore, unconstitutional." On the other hand, more than 30 states have legalized medical cannabis since 1996, but the Supreme Court has never ruled that state legalization regimes are preempted by federal law. [Ed: This Cato brief by Vanderbilt law profession Robert Mikos explains why federal law probably does not preempt state law in ways that would interfere with state legalization laws. -DB]

Foreign Policy

Trump Accuses China of Failing to Halt Fentanyl Exports to US. President Trump last Thursday accused Chinese President Xi Jinping of failing to honor a pledge to stem the flow of fentanyl from Chinese chemical factories to the United States. "My friend President Xi said that he would stop the sale of fentanyl to the United States -- this never happened, and many Americans continue to die," Trump said in a tweet. "We're losing thousands of people to fentanyl," he later told reporters. Xi had promised Trump in December that he would act, and China announced on May 1 that it had expanded its list of narcotics subject to state control to include more than 1,400 known fentanyl analogues.

China Rejects Trump Criticism on Fentanyl. Chinese state media fired back at President Trump on Sunday, with Xinhua editorializing that "the United States has only itself to blame" for the country's opioid crisis. A day earlier, Liu Yaojin, deputy director of the China National Narcotics Control Commission also hit back, saying "China is not the main resources of fentanyl in the United States… I think that the United States should solve the problem of the widespread abuse of fentanyl domestically."

[Ed: I've never been inclined to accept the word of China's government, much less of their counternarcotics officials. Nor, however, can one rely on President Trump's word about anything either. On this one, the Chinese are probably more right than wrong. As this commentary by RAND scholars Beau Kilmer and Bryce Pardo suggests (following a report on Asian drug policy, link a few paragraphs in), China's regulatory capacity (unlike its surveillance capacity) falls very far short of what's needed to monitor all the chemical companies that could be involved in fentanyl, some of which produce it legally for the medicinal market. If they were to succeed in stamping out illicit production by such businesses, it could have unintended consequences, such as sparking increased activity by groups operating entirely outside the law. -DB]

International

UNODC Reports Slight Drop in Colombia Coca Production Last Year. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported last Friday that coca production had declined by a modest 1.2% in 2018 from record levels the year before. In areas where voluntary and forced eradication took place, production dropped 18%, but that was largely offset by increases in areas dominated by violent drug trafficking organizations.

Honduran President Accused of Drug Conspiracy by US Prosecutors. In documents filed in federal court in New York City last Friday, prosecutors refer to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez as a co-conspirator in a drug trafficking scheme with his brother, Juan Antonio Hernandez, and former President Porfirio Lobo "to use drug trafficking to help assert power and control in Honduras." It says that the president and his predecessor "relied on drug proceeds" to fund political campaigns and cites "evidence of high-level political corruption." The US government has been a staunch supporter of Hernandez's government, pouring millions of dollars into security cooperation to stop cocaine headed to the US from South America.

Chronicle AM: Fed Court Orders DEA to Respond to Pot Research Lawsuit, Colombia Violence Rising, More... (7/31/19)

A federal appeals court has ordered the DEA to promptly respond to a lawsuit over stalled medical marijuana research applications, a Florida legalization initiative passes an early milepost, a psychedelic activist group goes national, and more.

SPORE is taking its psychedelic activism nationwide through a new nonprofit. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Court Orders DEA to Explain Marijuana Research Block. The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit on Monday ordered the DEA to respond to a lawsuit about stalled applications for research-grade marijuana growers. The lawsuit was filed by the Scottsdale Research Institute, which has submitted an application that has never been acted on. The court on Monday ordered that the DEA "file a response to the amended mandamus petition, not to exceed 7,800 words, within 30 days of the date of this order."

Florida Activists Clear First Hurdle to Putting Marijuana Legalization on 2020 Ballot. Sensible Florida, the group behind the legalization initiative, announced Monday that it had met an early requirement in the process of getting the measure on the November 2020 ballot. The group has gathered some 76,000 valid voter signatures, or one-tenth of the number required to put the measure on the ballot. This triggers a state Supreme Court review of the initiative's language.

Psychedelics

Psychedelic Activists Group Goes Nationwide. The group that organized the successful Denver psychedelic mushroom decriminalization initiative is going national. SPORE, the Society for Psychedelic Outreach and Reform and Education, announced Tuesday that it will apply for 501(c)(3) status, allowing the organization to reach more people. "Our mission is to transform public opinion to normalize and decriminalize the responsible use, possession and cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelic plants and fungi," said Kevin Matthews, the group's executive director. "We offer resources like education, community and organizational support, policy guidance, and we're also advocates for individuals, communities and organizations that are interested in pursuing or exploring psychedelic drug policy reform both here in Colorado and nationwide."

International

Colombia Homicides Jump as Traffickers, Rebels Fight Over Former FARC Areas. The national homicide rate rose for the first time in a decade last year, driven largely by battles for control over coca-growing areas that had previously been controlled by the leftist guerrillas of the FARC. The FARC demobilized as part of the 2016 peace accords, but that left a vacuum in coca-growing areas it once dominated. Now, FARC dissidents, other guerrilla groups, and criminal drug trafficking groups are fighting over who will control the fields.

Chronicle AM: FL Pot Initiative Nears Early Mile Post, Colombia Drug Reform Push, More... (7/25/19)

Arkansas sees yet another marijuana legalization initiative filed, the Florida legalization initiative campaign nears a milepost, Colombian legislators seek to block their rightist president's repressive drug policies, and more.

Colombian legislators want to block President Duque's plan to dump herbicides on coca fields (and farmers). (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Sees Second Legalization Initiative Filed. A group calling itself Arkansas True Grass has filed a marijuana legalization initiative with the secretary of state's office. The Arkansas Recreational Marijuana Amendment would legalize the use of the drug and expunge any previous criminal convictions for marijuana possession. Earlier this month, another pro-legalization group, the Arkansas Drug Policy Education Group, separately filed two legalization initiatives.

Florida Legalization Initiative Nears Early Signature Benchmark. Regulate Florida, the group trying to put a legalization initiative on the 2020 ballot, says it has nearly enough signatures to trigger a review of the ballot summary by the state Supreme Court. The court will look at whether the summary follows state ballot guidelines. The trigger point is just over 10% of the 766,200 valid voter signatures required to make the ballot. Reaching the trigger point also requires state economists to conduct an economic impact study of the initiative.

New York City Council Passes Two Marijuana Reform Resolutions. The city council on Tuesday approved a pair of marijuana reform resolutions as part of a package of marijuana legislation the council's Progressive Caucus is seeking to advance. The first resolution calls on the city's child services department to clarify that "finding that a person's mere possession or use of marijuana does not by itself create an imminent risk of harm to a child, warranting the child's removal," while the second calls on the legislature to pass a bill requiring the New York Department of Health to create hospital drug testing regulations for pregnant women or those giving birth, "including informing patients of their rights before any discussion of drug use or drug testing."

International

Colombian Congress Presents Bills to Decriminalize Drug Use, Ban Glyphosate. In a slap in the face to President Ivan Duque, the legislative opposition and the center-right bloc presented four bills that seek to decriminalize drug use and ban glyphosate, the chemical the government wants to use to fumigate coca. The package of bills seeks to reverse Duque's repressive drug policies, which have the support of only a minority of conservative and far-right parties. What opposition lawmakers want is to curb drug abuse by strengthening health care and to fight drug trafficking via voluntary crop substitution and rural development.

Chronicle AM: Arizona 2020 Initiative Gearing Up, Land Mines in the Coca Fields, More... (7/3/19)

Arizona marijuana legalization supporters prepare to try again, New Jersey is set for a big medical marijuana expansion, tension in Colombia's coca fields, and more.

Things are heating up in Colombia's coca fields. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona 2020 Legalization Initiative Campaign Getting Underway. Marijuana legalization supporters are set to try once again to legalize weed via the popular vote after coming up short in 2016. Proponents argue the scenery has shifted enough since then that they can win next year. They will need some 237,000 valid voter signatures by next summer to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) on Tuesday signed into law signed the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act (S 10). The bill greatly expands the state medical marijuana program by increasing the number of qualifying conditions, raising caps on the amount that may be purchased and possessed, and increasing the number of grower permits.

Asset Forfeiture

Hawaii Governor Faces Pressure to Not Veto Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. After hinting last week that he might veto civil asset forfeiture reform legislation, Gov. David Ige (D) is facing rising pressure from lawmakers and others to change course. The measure, HB 748, which would end civil asset forfeiture, passed both houses of the legislature without a dissenting vote. But Ige called civil asset forfeiture "an effective and critical law enforcement tool that prevents the economic benefits of committing a crime from outweighing consequential criminal penalties and punishment." Lawmakers such as bill sponsor Rep. Joy San Buenaventura (D-Puna) countered that the bill is necessary to protect "innocent people whose property was seized because of legalized theft by the government." The practice amounts to "policing for profit," she added. The ACLU of Hawaii is also calling on Ige to not veto the bill.

International

Colombia Complains Armed Groups are Planting Land Mines to Protect Coca Crop. Colombia's High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos told the Organization of American States Tuesday that the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) and the rightist paramilitary force the Urabeños have both resumed planting land mines to protect coca crops from manual eradication efforts. Ceballos said the mining is increasing the isolation of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities and undermining the peace process. "Planting landmines again stalls the adequate implementation of the peace accords, because it prevents populations from returning to their territories," he told journalists. Since 1990, more than 400 crop eradicators have been wounded by land mines and 46 killed.

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