Mexican Drug War

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Chronicle AM: CDC Says Drug ODs Declined Last Year, El Chapo Gets Life in Prison, More... (7/18/19)

The CDC reports that the overdose crisis may have peaked in 2017, El Chapo is sentenced to life in prison for exporting tons of cocaine and other drugs to the US, North Carolina lawmakers want to ban smokable hemp, and more.

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman gets life in prison, but somebody has already replaced him. (SEDENA}
Marijuana Policy

More Than 100 Marijuana Businesses Urge Congress to Include Social Equity in Legalization. A coalition representing more than a hundred marijuana businesses and industry associations sent a letter to the congressional leadership Thursday, urging them to ensure that provisions promoting social equity are part of any marijuana reform legislation. The signatories said they feared people from communities that suffered a disproportionate impact from the drug war would be "left behind because a previous [cannabis] conviction often is a disqualifying factor to become an owner or employee in the new legal 'green-rush'' and also because "they are unable to come up with the capital necessary to break into the industry."

West Hollywood Okays First Cannabis Cafe. The city of West Hollywood, California, has approved a space for what would be the first cannabis café in the city. The council Tuesday approved a business license for Lowell Farms, which promises cannabis cuisine and a smoking area. Since state law forbids the consumption of alcohol and marijuana on the same site, alcohol will not be served. The doors could open within months.

Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Lawmakers File Federal Bill to Break Medical Marijuana Research Logjam. A bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has filed the Medical Marijuana Research Act, which aims to accelerate medical marijuana research by creating a less cumbersome registration process, reforming production and distribution regulations, and allowing for private manufacturing and distribution of marijuana for research purposes. "Forty-seven states have legalized some form of cannabis, yet the federal government is still getting in the way of further progress on the potential for research," said Blumenauer.

Hemp

North Carolina House Committee Votes to Define Smokable Hemp as Marijuana. Acting at the behest of law enforcement, the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday amended SB 352 to classify smokable hemp as a controlled substance like marijuana. The move came after police complained that allowing smokable hemp would make enforcing laws against marijuana smoking unenforceable and that it would cause police to lose probable cause for vehicle searches based on the smell of marijuana smoke or a drug dog's alert. "If this bill passes without the ban, we will put 800 of our law enforcement dogs and their handlers out of business," said Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R-Duplin).

Ohio House Votes to Approve Hemp Bill. The House on Wednesday voted 88-3 to approve SB 57, which clears the way for legal hemp production in the state. The Senate had already approved the bill, but because the House amended it, the Senate voted later Wednesday to concur in those amendments. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Mike DeWine (R).

Drug Overdoses

CDC Says Drug Overdoses Fell Last Year for First Time in Decades. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Wednesday that preliminary data showed nearly 68,000 drug overdose deaths last year, a 5% decline over 201, which saw a record of more than 70,000 deaths, and the first decline since the beginning of the current opioid use wave beginning in 1995. But the rate is still about seven times higher than it was then.

Law Enforcement

El Chapo Sentenced to Life in Prison. Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison plus 30 years in federal court in Manhattan. He had been convicted in February of smuggling tons of cocaine and other drugs into the US. He is headed for the federal maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado.

Chronicle AM: UN Will Probe Philippines Drug War Killings, PA MedMJ Expansion, More... (7/12/19)

The UN will probe drug war killings in the Philippines, murders in Mexico hit a monthly high, the North Carolina Opioid Epidemic Response Act is now on the governor's desk, and more.

Equipment to test controlled substances for contaminants would be decriminalized under a North Carolina bill. (SSDP)
Medical Marijuana

Iowa Lawmakers Reject Plan to Explore Medical Marijuana Expansion. In a meeting Thursday, lawmakers rejected a plan to form a special committee to work on expansion of the state's limited medical marijuana program. This comes after the legislature passed an expansion bill earlier this year, only to see it vetoed by Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), who objected to a provision allowing an increase in the amount of THC allowed in medical marijuana products.

Pennsylvania Adds Anxiety Disorders, Tourette's to List of Qualifying Conditions. Dept. of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine announced Thursday that the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board had added anxiety disorders and Tourette's Syndrome to the list of qualifying conditions for the use of medical marijuana. That brings the state's list of qualifying conditions to 23. The change goes into effect on July 20.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

North Carolina House Passes Opioid Epidemic Response Act. The House on Wednesday voted to approve HB 325, the Opioid Epidemic Response Act. The Senate has already approved its version of the bill, so it now goes to the desk of Gov. Roy Cooper (D). Among other provisions, the bill would eliminate the state registration requirement for buprenorphine prescribers, decriminalize drug testing equipment used to identify contaminants in controlled substances, and removes restrictions on the use of state funds to purchase needles, syringes, or other injection supplies.

International

Mexico Murder Rates Tops 2,000 a Month for First Time. The Mexican news outlet Milenio reported 2,249 murders nationwide in June, the highest monthly tally since it began counting in 2007 and the first time the number killed in a month passed the 2,000 mark. The Mexican states with the highest death counts in June were Jalisco with 206, Mexico with 202, Baja California with 181, and Guanajuato with 176. In all four states, the Jalisco Nueva Generation cartel is playing either a direct or indirect role in the violence.

UN Will Probe Philippines Drug War Deaths. The UN Human Rights Council voted Thursday to begin an investigation into mass killings undertaken as part of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs. The official death count is 6,600, but activists say it could actually be as high as 27,000. Eighteen countries on the council voted for the resolution and 14 against, including China. Fifteen others abstained, including Japan.

Chronicle AM: NY Legalization Effort Continues, Brazil Drug Survey Suppressed, More... (6/14/19)

The New York legislature has less than a week to get marijuana legalization done, a bid to open research on Schedule I drugs dies in the House, the Brazilian government appears to be suppressing a drug use survey that undercuts its war on drugs rationale, and more.

Mexico can produce about 100 metric tons of heroin a year from its opium poppy crop, the drug czar's office says. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization Inching Forward in New York. With the legislative session coming to an end next week, Assembly Democrats went into a closed-door conference Thursday evening seeking a path forward. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have also been discussing the bill these past two days, with those discussions deemed largely positive. Lawmakers have until next Wednesday to get it done.

Drug Policy

House Democrats Join Republicans to Defeat Ocasio-Cortez Amendment to Ease Research Barriers for Schedule I Drugs. A majority of House Democrats joined their GOP colleagues in voting down an amendment that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) filed to expand research into the potential benefits of Schedule I substances. The amendment would have removed a longstanding budget rider that bars the use of federal funds for "any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance in Schedule I." Ocasio-Cortez had pointed to psilocybin and MDMA as examples of understudied drugs, but Schedule I also contains marijuana and heroin. Democrats voted against the measure after the Democratic leadership failed to give members a directive to support it. It was the only amendment not supported by the leadership.

International

Brazilian Government Accused of Suppressing Data That Could Challenge Its War on Drugs. Researchers familiar with a national drug use survey commissioned in 2014 are accusing the government of President Jairo Bolsonaro of suppressing its publication because it contradicts the government's assertion that drug use is a widespread and growing problem in the country. The government argues that the renowned Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ) in Rio de Janeiro, which conducted the survey, didn't follow proper methodologies, a claim the foundation strenuously denies. "FIOCRUZ is proud of the work carried out by its researchers and ensures that [the survey] complied with what was proposed in the public notice, respecting all the methodological, scientific and ethical rigor pertinent to this type of study," says a statement released by the foundation on 21 May. Leaked data from the survey found that less than 1% of Brazilians reported ever using crack cocaine -- the main focus of the government's drug war.

Chronicle AM: CT Legalization Could Get Vote Soon, Chinese Fentanyl Will Keep Coming, More... (5/16/19)

A federal bill to protect immigrants working in the marijuana industry gets filed, the Oregon Senate approves a marijuana interstate commerce bill, the San Antonio DA is no longer prosecuting picayune drug possession cases, RAND says China will have a hard time stopping fentanyl, and more.

A deadly dose of fentanyl. China won't be able to stop exports, a RAND report says. (DEA.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New Congressional Bill Aims to Resolve Marijuana Industry Border Issues. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) on Tuesday filed a bill which would clarify that using marijuana in compliance with state or foreign law, or working in the legal industry, wouldn't disqualify people from entering the US. The legislation, the Maintaining Appropriate Protections for Legal Entry (MAPLE) Act, updates a bill Blumenauer filed in December to protect Canadians working in the marijuana industry from being denied entry to the US. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Connecticut Could See Marijuana Legalization Vote in Next Three Weeks. House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said Wednesday that the legislature could vote on legalizing marijuana in the next three weeks instead of pushing it into a special session. The regular session ends on June 5. Aresimowicz said the General Law Committee is making progress is melding together multiple bills into a single measure. "It looks as though we may have a bill that could be ready for action," Aresimowicz said. "We have the entire next week to do all these major bills and get them up to the Senate in a time that would be appropriate for action."

Oregon Senate Approves Marijuana Interstate Commerce Bill. The Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would allow the governor to negotiate agreements with other states to export and import marijuana products across state lines. SB 582 now goes to the House.

Hemp

Texas Senate Unanimously Approves Hemp Bill. The Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved HB 1325, which would legalize the farming of industrial hemp in the state. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

Higher Education

Senate Democrats File Bill to Protect Students with Drug Convictions from Losing Federal College Aid. Four Senate Democrats, including presidential contenders Cory Booker (NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) have filed a bill to streamline the federal student financial aid application process, which would also remove the question about prior drug convictions. The drug conviction question has cost thousands of students access to loans and grants since it was added to the form in a 1998 reform of the Higher Education Act.

Law Enforcement

Houston Police Investigation into Fatal Botched Drug Raid Now Goes to Prosecutors. The Houston Police Department has ended its investigation into a January drug raid that left a middle-aged couple dead after a Houston narcotics officer apparently lied on a search warrant that a heroin buy had taken place at their home. Police found no heroin, and only personal use amounts of marijuana and cocaine. Two of the officers involved have already resigned. "The Houston Police Department has completed the criminal investigation and the officer-involved shooting investigation regarding the incident at 7815 Harding Street on January 28, 2019," Chief Art Acevedo said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. "Today, each of these separate investigations have been turned in to the Harris County District Attorney's Office."

San Antonio DA Has Quit Prosecuting Miniscule Drug Possession Cases. Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzalez has confirmed that his office is no longer prosecuting drug possession cases where the amount involved is less than a quarter gram. The policy has been in place since early this year. "I've got to make the decision as the top law enforcement officer in this county to make the best uses of the manpower that I have and the limited resources that I have," said Gonzales.

International

China Unlikely to Curb Fentanyl Exports in Short-Term. A new RAND Corporation report that examines China's pharmaceutical industry warns that it is unlikely to be able to curb fentanyl exports in the near future. "China's leaders recognize that they have a problem and appear committed to seeking solutions," report coauthor and Rand analyst Bryce Pardo said. "But it is unlikely that they can contain the illicit production and distribution of fentanyl in the short term because enforcement mechanisms are lacking. Producers are quick to adapt, impeding Chinese law enforcement's ability to stem the flow to global markets."

Mexican Drug Cartels Now Make Their Own Cocaine, Colombia Says. Colombian police report that drug traffickers are now exporting not just refined cocaine but also cocaine base, which they say means Mexican drug cartels must be operating their own laboratories to refine the drug themselves. The move comes after the Colombian government imposed tighter restrictions on precursor chemicals for refining raw coca into cocaine. Mexican authorities say they have seen no evidence of cocaine labs, though.

(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: Urge NC Gov to Veto Overdose Homicide Bill, Mexico Wants Out of Plan Merida, More... (5/9/19)

Congressmembers call on DEA to permit more research marijuana grows, the Denver magic mushroom initiative comes up short (or so we thought at publishing time), Mexico's president wants an end to Plan Merida and economic development help instead, and more.

Mexico wants less drug war aid, more economic development. (Borderland Beat)
Marijuana Policy

Majority of State Attorneys General Tell Congress to Pass Marijuana Banking Bill. Attorneys General from 38 states and territories have called on Congress to pass legislation that would allow marijuana businesses to gain access to the financial system. "Businesses are forced to operate on a cash basis. The resulting grey market makes it more difficult to track revenues for taxation and regulatory compliance purposes, contributes to a public safety threat as cash-intensive businesses are often targets for criminal activity, and prevents proper tracking of billions in finances across the nation," the attorneys general wrote in a letter to congressional leaders on Wednesday.

Medical Marijuana

Congress Members Call on DEA to Approve More Marijuana Growers. Some 30 members of Congress have sent a letter to the Justice Department and the DEA Tuesday asking the agencies to speed the process of approving new federally authorized marijuana growers. There is currently only one authorized cultivation facility, at the University of Mississippi. Although new applications are supposed to be approved, the representatives called the process "arduous and long."

House Committee Votes on Veterans Medical Marijuana Bills Canceled. Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, cancelled votes on two bills concerning medical marijuana and veterans that were set for Wednesday. He said he now plans to hold a later hearing on the legislation but gave no reason for canceling the votes or the delay.

Texas House Passes Second CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The House on Tuesday gave final approval to HB 3703, which would add multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and spasticity to the list of debilitating conditions that qualify for cannabis oil. It passed a similar bill, HB 1365, on Monday. Both now head to the Senate.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

ONDCP Releases Report on the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released a report on the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. The report "outlines the progress the Trump Administration has made to curb addiction and tackle drug demand and the opioid crisis through prevention, interdiction, and treatment." It cites an ad campaign, decreases in opioid prescribing, prosecutions of fentanyl traffickers, and an increase in access to buprenorphine, among other highlights.

Elizabeth Warren Unveils Opioid Package. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) rolled out the CARE Act on Wednesday, a $100 billion plan to fight the opioid crisis. "The ongoing opioid crisis is about health care. But it's about more than that. It's about money and power in America -- who has it, and who doesn't. And it's about who faces accountability in America -- and who doesn't," Warren wrote. "If the CARE Act becomes law, every single person would get the care they need… We should pass it -- not in two years, not after the 2020 elections -- but immediately." The measure would provide $100 billion in federal funding over the next decade, with $2.7 billion annually for what Warren described as the "hardest hit" counties and cities, including those with the highest rates of overdoses. It would also give $500 million each year to expand access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) filed a companion bill in the House.

Andrew Yang Calls for Opioid Decriminalization. Democratic presidential contender Andrew Yang is calling for the decriminalization of opioids as part of his platform. "We need to decriminalize the possession and use of small amounts of opioids," Yang says. "Other countries, such as Portugal, have done so, and have seen treatment go up and drug deaths and addiction go down. When caught with a small quantity of any opioid, our justice system should err on the side of providing treatment."

Psychedelics

Denver Magic Mushroom Initiative Narrowly Defeated. [Update: Last-minute mail-in ballots put the initiatve over the top by the following morning.] An initiative that would have effectively decriminalized the possession of magic mushrooms and psilocybin was defeated at the polls Tuesday. The initiative would have made the drugs law enforcement's lowest priority. It lost by a preliminary margin of 52% to 48%.

Sentencing

North Carolina Overdose Homicide Bill Goes to Governor. A bill that would make people who provide drugs to others who later overdose on them subject to murder charges has passed the legislature and is now on the desk of Gov. Roy Cooper (R). Harm reductionists are calling for the measure, HB 474, to be vetoed and urging folks to let the governor know their opposition.

International

Mexico President Wants End to Plan Merida, Economic Development Aid Instead. Mexican President Andres Lopez Manuel Obrador said Tuesday he wants the US to end the anti-drug Merida Initiative and instead invest in economic development in southern Mexico and Central America. "We want the Merida Initiative to be completely reoriented, because it hasn't worked. 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," Lopez Obrador told a press conference. "The proposal we're making is a development plan for southeastern Mexico and Central America. We want investment dedicated to productive activities and job creation. We don't want attack helicopters."

(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: CO Drug Defelonization Bill Advances, Mexico Murders, Colombia Massacres, More... (4/23/19)

Drug prohibition is engendering new levels of violence in Mexico and Colombia, the Denver city council deals a blow to would-be social consumption business operators, the FDA approves generic naloxone, and more.

The black market in cocaine is fueling violence in Mexico and Colombia. (USCBP)
Marijuana

Denver City Council Rejects Easing Restrictions on Social Consumption. A resolution to make it easier for businesses offering on-premises consumption by halving the 1,000-foot buffer between them and daycare centers, drug treatment centers, and city-owned parks has failed in the city council. The council voted 7-5 to approve the measure, but because it would have amended the city's voter-approved 2016 social consumption, it needed nine votes to pass.

Harm Reduction

FDA Approves First Generic Naloxone. The Food and Drug Administration announced last Friday that it has approved the first generic formulation of naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug. The agency also said it will prioritize its review of other applications for generic variants of products intended to treat opioid overdoses. "In the wake of the opioid crisis, a number of efforts are underway to make this emergency overdose reversal treatment more readily available and more accessible. In addition to this approval of the first generic naloxone nasal spray, moving forward we will prioritize our review of generic drug applications for naloxone," the FDA said.

Sentencing Reform

Bipartisan Drug Defelonization Bill Advances in Colorado Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill 3-2 Monday that would reduce the penalties for drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. The bipartisan legislation, HB19-1263, which was approved by the full House on April 18, will now advance to the Senate Finance Committee.

International

UN Report Finds Massacres on the Increase in Colombia. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has issued a report revealing a large increase in massacres carried out in Colombia, reflecting new criminal dynamics in key areas of the country. OHCHR noted just 11 massacres in 2017, but that number nearly tripled to 29 cases last year. Most of the massacres occurred in the departments of Antioquia, Cauca, Norte de Santander and Caquetá, areas particularly affected by Colombia's ongoing armed conflict. In the wake of the peace agreement between the FARC and the government, old and newly emerging criminal groups are fighting over who will control coca and poppy-growing areas and distribution.

Mexico Murder Rate Keeps Increasing. Data released this week from the National System for Public Security show that the homicide rate in the country has soared in the first two months of this year. Some 8,493 people were killed between January 1 and March 3, a 9.6% jump over the same period in 2018. Most -- but not all -- of the violence is related to fighting between rival cartels and clashes between cartels and members of the state security apparatus. The previous two years had both seen record numbers of killings, with some 33,341 reported last year, but if the rate seen in early numbers this year continues, the toll could reach 50,000 by year's end.

Chronicle AM: FDA Eases Opioid Rules to Allow Tapering, Ciudad Juarez Violence Spikes, More... (4/17/19)

Decriminalization bills are alive in Alabama and North Carolina, the Iowa Senate approves hemp, the FDA eases opioid prescribing rules, Ciudad Juarez sees a bloody weekend, and more.

Hydrocodone. New FDA rules will allow docs to taper patients off opioids, instead of going cold turkey. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Alabama Decriminalization Bill Advances. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved SB 98, which would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. People caught with less than an ounce would face a maximum $250 fine for the first two offenses, but possession of between one and two ounces would be a Class A misdemeanor and possession of more than two ounces would be a Class C felony worth up to 10 years in prison.

Michigan Bills Would Cut Sentences for Pot Prisoners, Probationers. A package of bills from Sen. Sylvia Santana (D) would allow people on probation or in prison for marijuana offenses to have their sentences reduced or eliminated. While there are only three people in state prison who would be affected, more than 1,300 people are on probation for marijuana offenses. "We have already legalized marijuana in the state so therefore this is just the right thing to do," Santana said.

North Carolina Decriminalization Bill Filed. Four state representatives have cosponsored HB766, which would "decriminalize possession of four ounces or less of marijuana and allow for the expunction of possession of marijuana offenses involving possession of four ounces or less of marijuana." It's been referred to the House Rules Committee.

Hemp

Iowa Senate Passes Hemp Legalization. The Senate voted 49-1 to approve SF 599, the Industrial Hemp Act. The hemp industry would be regulated by the state Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. The bill now goes to the House.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

FDA Eases Opioid Policy to Allow for Tapering. The Food and Drug Administration has issued labeling changes for prescription opioids that instruct physicians to taper opioid prescriptions rather than cut them down or off. The agency also acknowledged that a 2016 CDC guideline restricting opioid prescriptions had resulted in harms to patients. "Recently, the FDA has received reports of serious harm, including serious withdrawal symptoms, uncontrolled pain and suicide, in patients who are physically dependent on opioid pain medicines when these medicines are suddenly discontinued or when the dose is reduced too quickly, often without adequate patient communication, follow-up or support," the FDA said in an April 9 announcement. "These practices have also been associated with patients attempting to find other sources of opioids in order to minimize their withdrawal symptoms or self-medicate for pain," the statement said.

Harm Reduction

California Bill Would Let Localities Veto Needle Exchange Programs. State Sen. John Moorlach (R-Orange County) has filed a bill that would require city or county officials to sign off before needle exchanges could operate in their jurisdictions. SB 689 is opposed by public health advocates, who fear it could lead to increased HIV and Hep C transmission and even overdose deaths. The bill is set for a hearing before the Senate Health Committee next week.

International

Mexico Sees Bloody Weekend in Ciudad Juarez. Ciudad Juarez saw its bloodiest weekend of the year so far, with 19 people killed last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. That brings the death toll for the month so far to 79 as warring cartel factions fight over the lucrative plaza, or control of drug smuggling and retail sales operations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe it is time to try something different.

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

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

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

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hemp

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

Drug Policy

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

Foreign Policy

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

Harm Reduction

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

Drug War Issues

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