Mexican Drug War

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Chronicle AM: MX Minister Talks Legalizing Drugs, BC Nurses in Canada Decrim Call, More... (7/18/18)

BC nurses talk drug decriminalization, a Mexican minister talks drug legalization, House Republicans on a key committee once again block House votes on marijuana amendments, and more.

Mexico's incoming government is talking about legalizing drugs. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Rules Committee Once Again Blocks Marijuana Reform Votes. The Rules Committee, chaired by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), has once again blocked marijuana reform amendments from being voted on by the full House. On Monday night, the committee blocked votes on two amendments, bringing the total of amendments it has blocked to 36 in this session.

Arizona Federal Prosecutors Now Charging Marijuana Smugglers With Illegal Entry, Too. Federal prosecutors in Arizona have announced a policy shift in which they will now charge the hundreds of people caught each year smuggling marijuana across the border with immigration violations as well as drug charges. Under the new policy, prosecutors will now seek six-month sentences for misdemeanor illegal entry as well as six-month sentences for marijuana violations. While the sentences would run concurrently, a conviction for crossing the border illegally could be used as a sentencing enhancement in future convictions.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Medical Marijuana Patient Registry Delayed. The patient registry has been put on hold as regulators try to figure out when medical marijuana when actually be available to patients. The registry was supposed to go online last week. The state Department of Commerce has yet to set a date when it expects medical marijuana to be available.

Oklahoma Attorney General Advises Health Board to Change Restrictive Rules on Medical Marijuana. The office of the state attorney general is advising the Board of Health to revisit its restrictive rules for the state's new voter-approved medical marijuana law. On Monday, Attorney General Mike Hunter said his office would review legal challenges to the rules, and on Wednesday, the office announced it was calling on the board to convene a special meeting to amend the rules it passed last week. "The current rules contain provisions that are inconsistent with the plain language of State Question 788 and the State Board of Health acted outside of its authority when it voted to implement them," Attorney General Hunter said. "Although I didn't support State Question 788, the people of the state have spoken and I have a legal duty to honor the decision made by the electorate. My advice today is made pursuant to that responsibility as attorney general. Moving forward, I encourage all stakeholders to engage with the legislative working group looking at medical marijuana to ensure they have their concerns and recommendations heard and addressed by the legislature."

International

British Columbia Nurses Join Call for Canada Drug Decriminalization. The BC Nurses Union said in a press release Tuesday that the federal government should declare the opioid crisis a national public health emergency and that the possession of personal amounts of opioids should be decriminalized. The move comes just days after the Toronto board of health made a similar call.

Mexico Will Consider Drug Legalization, Interior Minister Says. Interior Minister Olga Sanchez Cordero said Tuesday that that incoming President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) had given her "carte blanche" to consider legalizing drugs. "On the subject of decriminalizing drugs, Andres Manuel told me, and I quote: 'Carte blanche. Whatever is necessary to restore peace in this country. Let's open up the debate,'" Sanchez Cordero said. She pointed to the bloody violence of the past decade: "What no one can deny with hard data is that, at least in the past ten years, the Mexican government has been incapable of stopping violence and responding to it with institutional mechanisms," she said.

Mexico's President-Elect Looks for Ways to End the Drug Wars [FEATURE]

Last Sunday, leftist politician Andres Manuel López Obrador -- often referred to with the acronymic AMLO -- won the Mexican presidency in a landslide. When he takes office in December, with his party in control of both houses of the Mexican Congress, Mexico's drug policies are likely to see some radical changes.

AMLO in front of picture of his favorite Mexican president, Benito Juarez (Creative Commons)
Just what AMLO does will have significant consequences on both sides of the border. His policies will impact how much heroin and cocaine make it to the streets of America, as well as how many Mexicans flee north to escape prohibition-related violence, and how much drug money flows back into Mexico, corrupting politicians, police, and the military.

That AMLO -- and Mexico -- want change is no surprise. A vigorous campaign against the country's powerful and violent drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- unleashed by rightist president Felipe Calderon in 2006 brought the Mexican military into the fight, but instead of defeating the cartels, the campaign, still ongoing under President Enrique Pena Nieto, has instead led to record levels of corruption and violence.

In 2012, when both the U.S. and Mexico had presidential elections and the drug war death toll was around 15,000, Mexico's drug prohibition-related violence was big news north of the border. But in the years since then, as US attention to Mexico's drug wars wavered, it's only gotten worse. Last year, Mexico saw more than 30,000 murders, and the cumulative drug war toll in the past dozen years is more than 200,000 dead and tens of thousands of "disappeared."

But the toll runs deeper than just a count of the casualties. The relentless drug war violence and the endemic corruption of police forces, politicians, and even sectors of the military by cartels have had a deeply corrosive effect on the citizenry and its belief in the ability of the country's political institutions to address the problem.

López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City, campaigned heavily on the need for change, especially around drug policy, corruption, and public safety. "Abrazos, no balazos" ("hugs, not gunfights") was one of his favorite campaign slogans. AMLO campaigned cautiously, hammering away at crime, corruption, and violence and mentioning different drug policy-related changes, but not coming out with specific policy proposals. Still, from his own remarks and those of people who will be assuming key positions in his administration, we can begin to sketch an outline of what those policies may look like.

Marijuana Legalization

Mexico is one of the world's largest marijuana producers (although the local industry has been taking a hit in recent years from completion north of the border), it has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of the herb, and it has legalized medical marijuana.

AMLO's pick for interior minister, former Supreme Court official Olga Sánchez Cordero has made no secret of her plans to seek full legalization and said this week that AMLO may seek a public referendum to gauge popular support for it. "Why maintain pot prohibition when Canada and US states are legalizing it, she said. "What are we thinking? Tell me. Killing ourselves. Really, keep on killing when... North America is decriminalizing?"

Drug Legalization

The possession of personal use amounts of all drugs has been decriminalized in Mexico since 2009, but that hasn't stopped the violence. AMLO and his advisors say he is open to considering taking the next step and legalizing all drugs.

"We'll analyze everything and explore all the avenues that will let us achieve peace. I don't rule out anything, not even legalization -- nothing," AMLO told the New Yorker during the campaign.

"The war on drugs has failed," wrote Sánchez Cordero. "Nothing contributes to peace by legislating on the basis of more criminal punishment and permanent confrontation. Violence is not fought with violence, as López Obrador rightly points out."

Drug legalization would be a radical step, indeed. It probably isn't going to happen under AMLO, since that would pit Mexico not only against the US, but also against the international anti-drug treaties that serve as the legal backbone of global drug prohibition. But he is putting the idea squarely on the table.

Amnesty

As a candidate, AMLO floated the idea of amnesty for those involved in the drug trade, a notion that created huge controversy and forced his campaign to clarify that it did not mean cutting deals with bloody-handed cartel leaders or their henchmen. Instead, his campaign clarified, he was referring to peasants growing drug crops and other low-level, nonviolent workers in the illicit business.

"Kidnappers? No," said Sánchez Cordero about possible amnesty recipients. "Who? The people working in rural areas, who are criminals because they work in the illegal drug business, but haven't committed crimes such as murder or kidnapping."

Mexican soldiers have been enlisted to fight the drug war. AMLO wants them to return to the barracks. (Creative Commons)
Demilitarization and Policing Reforms

For the past 12 years, the Mexican military has been called on to fight the cartels and suppress the drug trade. But the level of violence has only increased, the military is implicated in massive human rights violations (as can only be expected when a government resorts to soldiers to do police work), and finds itself subject to the same corrupting influences that have turned state and local police forces into virtual arms of the competing cartels.

With regard to cartel violence, AMLO repeatedly said on the campaign trail that "you don't fight fire with fire" and that what was needed was not soldiers on the streets, but social and economic assistance for the country's poor and unemployed -- to give them options other than going to work for drug gangs. Just this week, AMLO announced a $5 billion package of scholarships and job training support for the young.

Still, AMLO isn't going to send the soldiers back to the barracks immediately. Instead, says one of his security advisors, his goal is to do it over the next three years. He has also proposed replacing the military presence in the drug war with a 300,000-person National Guard, composed of both military and police, a notion that has been bruited by earlier administrations as a means of effectively replacing tainted state and local police participation.

Here, AMLO is not nearly as radical as with some of his other drug policy proposals. He as much as concedes that the bloody drug wars will continue.

"I'm not overwhelmed by any of it," Eric L. Olson, an expert on Mexico and security at the Wilson Center in Washington, told the Washington Post. "It falls well within the norm for what other politicians have been saying."

The US-Mexico Relationship

Over the past couple of Mexican administrations, Mexican security agencies have cooperated closely with their U.S. counterparts in the DEA and FBI. It's not clear whether that level of cooperation will be sustained under AMLO. When he was running for president in 2012, he called for blocking US intelligence work in Mexico, but during this campaign, he insisted he wanted a strong relationship with the US on security and trade issues.

While Mexico may chafe under the continued threats and insults of President Trump, it benefits from security cooperation with the US and would like to see the US do more, especially about the flow of guns south across the border.

"We are going to ask for the cooperation of the United States" on gun trafficking, said Alfonso Durazo, one of AMLO's security advisers, repeating an ongoing refrain from Mexican politicians.

Mexico has also benefited from DEA intelligence that allowed it to kill or capture numerous cartel figures. But AMLO is a much pricklier personality than his predecessor, and between Trump's racist Mexico- and immigrant-bashing and his imposition of tariffs on Mexican exports, US-Mexico relations could be in for a bumpy few years. AMLO's moves on changing drug policies at home are also likely to sustain fire from the White House, further inflaming tensions.

"The bottom line is he's not going to fight the drug war in the way that it's been fought in the last few decades," David Shirk, a professor at the University of San Diego who is an expert on security issues in Mexico told the Post. "That is potentially a huge change."

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

Chronicle AM: Vermont Marijuana Legalization in Effect, Acting DEA Head Named, More... (7/2/18)

Vermont becomes the 9th legal marijuana state, the DEA gets a new acting administrator, Mexico elects a new president who has new ideas for ending drug war violence, and much, much more.

You can now legally grow your own marijuana in Vermont. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Issues First Pot Shop License. The state's Cannabis Control Commission on Monday approved its first license for a retail marijuana outlet. The commission approved a license for Cultivate Holdings to open a retail shop. The shop already exists but has operated as a medical marijuana dispensary up until now.

North Dakota Could Vote on Marijuana Legalization in November. A little-noticed legalization initiative now looks like it may qualify for the November ballot. Organizers with Legalize ND say they have 16,000 raw signatures and are aiming at 20,000 before they turn them in next week. The initiative needs 13,452 valid voter signatures to qualify.

Northern Marianas Islands Legalization Bill Advances. The island US territory's House Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations has recommended passage of a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 20-62. Now, the measure awaits a go-ahead from Speaker Ralph Demapan (R) for it to head for a House floor vote.

Vermont Marijuana Legalization Is Now in Effect. As of Monday, it is legal to grow and possess small amounts of marijuana. People 21 and over can possess up to an ounce and two mature and four immature plants. But commercial sales have not been legalized.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Governor Says No Special Session for Medical Marijuana. Despite saying before the June 26 election that the successful medical marijuana initiative would require a legislative special session to be implemented, Gov. Mary Fallin (R) said last Friday that she and House and Senate leaders have decided that a special session isn't necessary. Instead, the Health Department will be charged with promulgating emergency rules.

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Foes Seek Emergency Restraining Order to Block it from Ballot. The Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Utah, which includes the Utah Medical Association, the Eagle Forum, the Utah Police Chiefs Association and other law enforcement groups, last Friday asked US District Court Judge Clark Waddoups to issue an emergency injunction. They argued marijuana remains illegal under federal and state law. But the state attorney general's office opposes the injunction. "There is no emergency," argued Assistant Utah Attorney General David Wolf. "The election is months away, and the voters may reject the Initiative and moot the constitutional issues that, in Plaintiffs' view, justify an emergency (preliminary) injunction."

Drug Policy

Acting DEA Head Named. The White House has named Uttam Dhillon as acting DEA administrator. Dhillon is a former career federal prosecutor who has also served in the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Trump White House.

International

South Australia to Crack Down on Marijuana. Resolutely moving firmly backward, South Australia's Liberal government is moving to crack down on marijuana users as part of a larger drug war offensive. Under a proposal from Attorney-General Vickie Chapman, fines could increase from $500 to $2,000, and users could face up to two years in jail. Another member of the Liberal government, Health Minister Greg Hunt, even resurrected the hoary old "gateway drug" canard. "Marijuana is a gateway drug. The risk of graduating to ice or to heroin from extended marijuana use is real and documented," Hunt said.

Indonesia Taking Softer Line on Drugs?. The National Narcotics Agency and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced last week that the country would now push for drug users to be rehabilitated rather than imprisoned. UNODC country manager Collie F. Brown said both institutions agreed that the best way to stop the spreading of drugs is through rehabilitation of drug addicts, rather than sending them to prison. [Ed: Does that mean they're going to stop killing people?]

Luxembourg Approves Medical Marijuana. A bill legalizing medical marijuana passed the parliament on June 28. The bill specifies qualifying conditions including chronic pain, chemotherapy-related nausea and muscle spasm as a result of multiple sclerosis. The marijuana will be imported from Canada and will only be available by prescription from pharmacies located within one of four hospitals in the 98-square mile country.

Mexico Elects President Who Will Likely Try New Approaches to Drug War. Andre Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) was overwhelmingly elected president of Mexico on Sunday. During the campaign, AMLO suggested a willingness to negotiate peace and even offer amnesty to some people in the drug trade. On Sunday night, he talked in the same terms. "The failed strategy of combating insecurity and violence will change," Lopez Obrador said. "More than through the use of force, we will tend to the causes that give rise to insecurity and violence," the president-elect added. He said his team will immediately begin consulting with human rights groups, religious leaders and the United Nations to develop a "plan for reconciliation and peace."

Chronicle AM: FDA Approves First Marijuana Drug, Mexican Ire Over Border Policy, More... (6/25/18)

The first marijuana-based drug is approved by the FDA, Oklahoma votes on medical marijuana tomorrow, Trump's border politics are raising ire and threatening cooperation in Mexico, and more.

Trump's immigration policies are threatening Mexican cooperation with the drug war and other security issues. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Attorney General Wants to Let Localities Extend Marijuana Business Moratoria for Another Year. Attorney General Martha Healey wants to let municipalities extend marijuana business moratoria for twice the time she originally said they needed. She had previously said the moratoria could only last for a year but now wants to double that to two years. The Marijuana Policy Project isn't on board with that: Towns have zoned for tobacco, alcohol, and pharmaceuticals for years," said MPP's Jim Borghesani. "It is a fiction that they need more time to figure out how to zone for cannabis. The only people who will benefit from Maura Healey's ruling are the criminals who have controlled cannabis sales for decades." About 160 cities and towns have a moratorium of some sort in place, most of which were set to expire at the end of the year.

Medical Marijuana

FDA Approves First Marijuana-Based Drug. The Food and Drug Administration has approved GW Pharmaceutical's epilepsy drug Epidiolex. The drug is approved for use in patients two years and older with Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, both rare and treatment-resistant forms of epilepsy. "This approval serves as a reminder that advancing sound development programs that properly evaluate active ingredients contained in marijuana can lead to important medical therapies," said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

Oklahoma Votes on Medical Marijuana Initiative Tuesday. Sooner voters will go to the polls tomorrow to cast their verdict on State Question 788, an initiative that would create a full-fledged medical marijuana program in the state. Democratic voters will also have a chance to vote for former state Sen. Connie Johnson, one of the state's leading medical marijuana proponents, who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Foreign Policy

Colombia Cocaine Production Levels "Unacceptable," US Says. Head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Jim Carroll said Monday that the record level of cocaine production in Colombia is "unacceptable" and blamed increased supply for pushing increased levels of cocaine use in the US. Given that Colombia's newly elected president, Ivan Duque, is a drug war hard-liner -- a shift from the policies of former President Santos -- Colombia is likely to return to pre-Santos policies attacking coca production, including aerial fumigation.

Citing Immigration Policy, Mexican Legislators Call for End to Security Cooperation With US. Mexican lawmakers last week proposed ending cooperation with the US on immigration, counterterrorism, and fighting organized crime (drug trafficking) "as long as President Donald Trump does not act with the respect that migrants deserve." The proposal came from the Congress's Permanent Commission, which meets while Congress is in recess. The lawmakers asked the presidency to "consider the possibility of withdrawing from any bilateral cooperation scheme" with the US on these issues.

International

Russia Poll Finds Very Strong Opposition to Legalizing Soft Drugs. An annual poll conducted by the research firm VTsIOM has 89% of respondents opposing to legalizing "soft drugs," a term generally considered to refer to marijuana. The numbers are in line with poll results from other years, ranging from 85% in 2004 to 93% last year.

Russia Says Canada's Marijuana Legalization Violates International Law. The Russian Foreign Ministry said last Thursday that Canada is violating international drug control treaties by legalizing marijuana. Those treaties do not allow for "flexible interpretation," the ministry said, adding that it expected other Western countries to chastise Canada. "We expect, that Canada's 'arbitrariness' will merit a response from its G7 partners, since this group has repeatedly declared its commitment to the rule of law in interstate relations," the ministry said.

(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 web site. 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: Trump, Kardashian Talk Prison Reform; Desaparecidos in Nuevo Laredo, More... (5/31/18)

Philadelphia sees its first medical marijuana dispensary, a new report says drugged driving fatalities are up dramatically, the UN is concerned about forced disappearances in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and more.

Kim Kardashian and President Trump met at the White House Wednesday to talk prison reform and pardons. (Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan GOP Lawmakers Split on Passing Legalization Initiative. State Republican lawmakers are split on a plan for the legislature to just pass the pending marijuana legalization initiative. Under state law, the legislature has until Tuesday to adopt the initiative, which would enable lawmakers to later amend it -- and would also, the Republicans hope, lessen voter turnout at the polls in November. The move has support in the Senate, but House Republicans have yet to embrace it.

New Hampshire Democrats Won't Make Legalization a Platform Plank. A bid to get the state Democratic Party to embrace marijuana legalization has failed. A pro-legalization resolution did not get enough votes in the state party's platform committee to take it to the party's convention next month.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Extends Deadline for Dispensaries to Get Licensed. The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs announced Wednesday that a June 15 deadline for operating dispensaries to get licensed under the state's new medical marijuana law will be extended to September 15. "This 92-day extension will allow the bureau and the board enough time to investigate and authorize facility operator licenses in order to make sure that access to medical marihuana is maintained," the agency said.

Philadelphia Gets First Dispensary. The City of Brotherly Love has seen its first medical marijuana dispensary open its doors. The Restore Integrative Wellness Center in Frankford opened Wednesday.

Driving

Number of Drugged Drivers Killed in Car Crashes Rising Dramatically, Report Finds. The number of drugged drivers killed in car wrecks is rising dramatically, according to a new report from the Governor's Highway Safety Association. The study found that 44% of fatally injured drivers tested positive for drugs in 2016, up more than 50% over a decade ago. The study pointed to spreading marijuana legalization and the opiate epidemic as contributing factors. "These are big-deal drugs. They are used a lot," said Jim Hedlund, an Ithaca, New York-based traffic safety consultant who conducted the highway safety group's study. "People should not be driving while they're impaired by anything and these two drugs can impair you." The study also found that half of the dead drivers who tested positive for drugs had more than one substance in them and that half of the dead drivers who tested positive for alcohol also tested positive for drugs.

Sentencing

Trump, Kim Kardashian Talk Prison and Sentencing Reform. The two reality TV stars met in the White House Wednesday to discuss prison reforms and sentencing policy. Kardashian is advocating for a pardon for low-level drug offender Alice Marie Johnson, who has served more than 20 years in prison on a first offense. White House advisor and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has prison reform in his portfolio, was also in the meeting. Half of Trump's previous commutations have been for rightist political figures including Joe Arpaio, Scooter Libby, and Dinesh D'Souza. He also shortened the sentences of a sailor who had taken photos in a classified area, and of the former executive of a meatpacking plant who committed loan fraud; and he pardoned the long-dead black boxer, Jack Johnson.

California Sentencing Reform Bill Passes Senate. A bill that would repeal a one-year sentencing enhancement for people who have prior felonies passed the state Senate Tuesday. Senate Bill 1392 now heads for the Assembly.

International

UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Calls on Mexico to Investigate Forced Disappearances in Nuevo Laredo. The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights called Wednesday on the Mexican government "take urgent measures to stop the wave of forced disappearances in Nuevo Laredo and surrounding areas" and said "there are strong indications" that they were committed "by a federal security force." The UN office documented at least 23 disappearances since the beginning of February, while the local Nuevo Laredo Human Rights Committee said it had documented 56 forced disappearances since January 20. The disappearances come as the city confronts violence among competing cartels and between the cartels and police and the military. "Many of these people would have been detained arbitrarily and disappeared while going about their daily lives," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein. "It is particularly horrific that at least five of the victims were minors, three of them very young, only 14 years old. These crimes, perpetrated during four months in only one municipality, are outrageous."

Chronicle AM: More Bangladeshi Drug War Killings, Canada Legalization Bill Advances, More... (5/29/18)

California lawmakers forego an opportunity to cut legal pot taxes, Pennsylvania's third largest city decriminalizes marijuana possession, the head of a UN agency calls on Latin America to consider drug legalization, Bangladeshi drug war killings mount, and more.

Canada's legalization bill heads for a final Senate vote by June 7. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill to Lower Pot Taxes Voted Down. Even though legal marijuana sales and tax revenues are much lower than anticipated, the legislature has passed on an opportunity to entice people away from the black market by cutting legal marijuana taxes, which can reach 50% of the purchase price when state and local taxes are included. A bill that would have lowered the state excise tax to 11% and suspended grower taxes for three years, Assembly Bill 3157, was defeated in the Assembly Appropriations Committee last Friday, but sponsor Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) said he hoped it could still be revived this year.

Colorado Grew 500 Tons of Legal Marijuana Last Year. Legal marijuana growers produced nearly 500 tons of pot last year, the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division reported last Friday. That turned into 411,000 pounds of purchased buds and more than 11 million edibles sold. The trend of production increasing each year since legalization continues.

Allentown, Pennsylvania, Decriminalizes. Pennsylvania's third largest city has now decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Allentown Mayor Ray O'Connell last Friday signed into law a measure passed 4-3 by the city council that makes possession of 30 grams or less a summary offense with a fine as low as $25.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Judge Rules Patients Can Smoke Medical Marijuana. An Orlando circuit court judge ruled last Friday that the state legislature's ban on smoking medical marijuana is unconstitutional. State voters had approved medical marijuana in 2016 -- without any ban on smoking.

Florida Governor Immediately Appeals Ruling That Patients Can Smoke Their Medicine. The ruling that patients can smoke their medicine is on hold after Gov. Rick Scott (R) immediately appealed the Orlando judge's ruling.

International

Head of UN Agency Says Latin America Must Consider Legalizing Drugs. Alicia Barcena, head of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), told a weekend forum in Paris that Latin America must seriously ponder drug legalization to reduce the human costs of drug prohibition. "I'm going to be very provocative. Who would drug legalization be good for? Latin America and the Caribbean, for God's sake. Because the illegality is what's killing people," she said. "It's time to seriously consider legalizing drugs."

Canadian Senate Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Senate Social Affairs Committee has approved the C-45 marijuana legalization bill with 40 amendments (most of them merely technical), including one that would give provincial governments the ability to ban homegrown marijuana. The committee's amended version of the bill will now go back to the Senate as a whole, which will decide whether to accept or reject the amendments or propose additional changes. The Senate has agreed to hold a final vote by June 7, which would allow the Trudeau government to meet its promise of having legal marijuana up and running by the end of summer.

Taliban Commander Orders Drug Labs Moved Out of Urban Areas to Avoid Civilian Casualties from American Air Strikes. The Taliban's shadow governor of opium-producing Helmand province has ordered drug labs moved out of populated areas because American air strikes are killing a rising number of civilians. Mullah Manan said that "due to one factory hundreds of the public are at risk from bombings and missiles" and called for facilities to shift to "mountains and valley sides" instead. Under looser rules of engagement under the Trump administration, bombing raids have nearly tripled in the first three months of this year compared with 2017.

Bangladesh's Murderous Anti-Drug Campaign Continues. Amid rising fears of a Philippines-style war on drugs, the latest reports are now that the toll has risen to 86 killed and more than 7,000 arrested since the government announced a new anti-drug offensive earlier this month. Human Rights Watch is speaking out, with Meenakshi Ganguly, the group's South Asia director warning that the government "should heed concerns and allegations by families and activists that several of these deaths could be extrajudicial killings."

Four Ways Fentanyl Could Radically Disrupt the Global Drug Trade

The synthetic opioid fentanyl isn't just killing American drug users by the thousands. Its emergence also signals a shift in the decades-old contours of the global drug trade, with ramifications not only for traditional drug-producing countries and drug trafficking networks but also for US foreign policy.

Black market fentanyl is not just wreaking havoc on the streets of American cities. (Creative Commons)
Synthesized from chemicals -- not from papaver somniferum, the opium poppy -- fentanyl is about 50 times stronger than heroin and is severely implicated in the country's drug overdose crisis, accounting for almost 20,000 deaths in 2016.

Illicit fentanyl is typically mixed with other opiates, such as heroin, resulting in much stronger doses of opioids than users expect, thus leading to opioid overdoses. But it is also increasingly also showing up in non-opiate drugs, resulting in fentanyl overdose deaths among unsuspecting methamphetamine and cocaine users.

But the havoc super-potent fentanyl is wreaking among drug users pales in comparison with the dramatic changes it could prompt in the global illicit drug production industry. As academic researchers Vanda Felbab-Brown, Jonathan Caulkins, and Keith Humphreys write in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, fentanyl's rise has the potential to cause disruption and innovation in black markets.

Here are four ways fentanyl alters the illegal drug production and distribution status quo:

1. It doesn't require an agricultural base. Virtually all of the other opioids on the black market, from heroin to morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone, require land to grow poppies on. And they require land that is outside cdthe effective control of the state. Non-state actors who can control such areas, whether it's the Taliban in Afghanistan or the drug cartels in southern and western Mexico, reap the profits and power of that control. With the ascent of lab-produced fentanyl made out of chemicals, traditional opiate producers should see their profits and their influence undermined.

2. It doesn't require a large workforce. Traditional opium production requires a large seasonal workforce of people to plant and tend the poppies, score the pods and scrape off the leaking opium, and then process and package the raw opium. Other workers will get jobs processing raw opium into heroin. All of those jobs bring money into the hands of poor agricultural families and political capital to the traffickers, whether it's the Taliban in Afghanistan or the cartels in Mexico. With fewer job opportunities to offer up, the traffickers lose clout.

3. It doesn't require an elaborate smuggling infrastructure. Because fentanyl is so potent, small amounts of the drug can contain huge numbers of doses, and that means it doesn't require transportation networks of trucks, planes, and boats to get an agricultural crop from the valleys of Afghanistan or the mountains of Mexico to consumers in the US Fentanyl is so potent, medicinal doses are measured in micrograms, and packages of it worth hundreds of thousands of dollars can fit inside a Priority Mail envelope. With smuggling fentanyl as easy as dropping a package in the mail, international drug smuggling organizations now have competition they never had before.

4. All of this can change the dynamics of US foreign policy. If plant-based opiates lose market share to synthetics in the future, this can weaken both insurgencies (Afghanistan) and criminal networks (Mexico). Ever since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, drug warriors have been constrained in their efforts to go after the Afghan opium crops because of fears it would drive poppy-dependent peasants into the hands of the Taliban. If opium production becomes relatively less important vis-à-vis fentanyl production, that constraint on an aggressive US response to Afghan opium production is weakened. Similarly, in Mexico, to the degree that fentanyl displaces peasants and processors and weakens the link between drug cartels and rural populations, it increases the ability of the Mexican government and its American backers to crack down even harder on the cartels.

Under drug prohibition, there is a strong impetus to come up with more pure, more potent, and more compact products. Fentanyl is the ultimate expression of that imperative, and its arrival is changing the contours of the global drug industry. Who knows how it will play out?

Chronicle AM: MI MJ Poll, Leading MX Pres Contender Says Debate Legalizing Drugs, More... (5/10/18)

Michigan marijuana stories abound, another Democratic presidential contender signs on to the federal legalization bill, Mexico's probable next president says he wants a debate on drug legalization, and more.

It's increasingly looking like Michigan will legalize weed come November.
Marijuana Policy

Kamala Harris Signs On to Cory Booker's Legalization Bill. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), oft mentioned as a potential Democratic presidential contender, is the latest senator to cosponsor Sen. Cory Booker's (D-NJ) marijuana legalization bill, S. 1689. Booker is also a potential Democratic presidential contender, as are two of the other three cosponsors, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The only non-presidential contender cosponsor is Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Michigan Poll Finds Voters Ready to Legalize Marijuana.A new Michigan State University Institute for Public Policy and Social Research poll strongly suggests the marijuana legalization initiative will cruise to victory in November. The poll found 61% saying they want to legalize marijuana, with 34% opposed. Only 5% were undecided. "Marijuana legalization is the only issue with fewer than 15% undecided. Since the marijuana initiative has a large lead with relatively few undecideds, it appears likely that it will pass," said MSU economics professor Charles Ballard, the director of SOSS.

Michigan GOP Gubernatorial Contenders Reject Marijuana Legalization. All of the Republican candidates for the state governorship are united on at least two things: Support for President Trump, and opposition to marijuana legalization. But at least one, Attorney General Bill Schuette, recognized the handwriting on the wall. "But I think citizens of the state will have a chance to vote, and democracy will prevail," he said.

Michigan Senate Panel Votes to Ban Marijuana-Infused Beer and Wine. Trying to get ahead of a potential "disaster," the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee on Wednesday voted unanimously to approve Senate Bill 969, which bans the sale and use of marijuana-infused beer, wine, and spirits. "This is happening in Colorado and should the ballot proposal pass in November, we're going to end up with it here," argued bill sponsor Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Lodge). "It's a recipe for disaster." The bill now goes before the full Senate.

Wisconsin's Milwaukee County Could See Advisory Referendum on Legalizing Marijuana. The Board of Supervisors' Committee on Judiciary, Safety and General Services on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution to put a non-binding advisory referendum on the November ballot. Voters would be asked: "Do you favor allowing adults 21 years of age and older to engage in the personal use of marijuana, while also regulating commercial marijuana-related activities, and imposing a tax on the sale of marijuana?" The full board will take up the resolution at its May 24 meeting.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Senate Approves Adding Qualifying Conditions for Medical Marijuana. The Senate voted 25-9 Wednesday to approve House Bill 579, which adds glaucoma, severe muscle spasms, intractable pain, PTSD, and Parkinson's Disease to the state's list of qualifying conditions for the use of medical marijuana. It also voted 21-10 to approve House Bill 627, which adds autism spectrum disorders to the list. The bills have already passed the House, but must be approved there again after changes were made in the Senate.

International

Mexico's Leading Presidential Candidate Calls for Debate on Drug Legalization. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), the left-leaning front-runner in the country's presidential election, has saiad he is open to debating drug legalization to reduce violence and criminality in the country. "All topics should be analyzed. Health is affected more by alcohol and tobacco than other drugs, and prohibiting these drugs creates more violence. Why not talk about it? And why not -- if it's what's best for the country -- approve it and implement it, listening to everyone's input?" he said,during an event titled "Dialogue for Peace and Justice," organized by several non-governmental organizations. AMLO also mentioned a general strategy to counter violence in the country, including a national peace dialog. "If there's crime, an activity will be done, and they will change it, criminals will do other things and my concern is that, by opening the market to drugs, other kinds of crimes will surge. The best thing would be to address the causes, the structure, reach the bottom of things without forgetting these measures (legalization)."

Mexican Soldiers Killed in Guerrero Gun Battle. Three Mexican Army soldiers were killed and three more wounded in a shootout with suspected drug gang members at a ranch outside Coyuca de Benitez, Guerrero. The ranch belonged to a former mayor of the town, who had resigned to run for state congress, but was killed Tuesday. At least 18 politicians have been killed in the state since September. Guerrero is one of Mexico's prime opium growing regions.

(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 web site. 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: Another Record Pot Poll, Brit Docs Call for Drug Legalization, More... (4/30/18)

A new Quinnipiac poll has the highest support yet for marijuana legaization, Maine's Tea Party governor again vetoes a legalization implementation bill, cartel murders spark a mass demonstration in Mexico, the British Royal College of Physicians calls for drug legalization, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New Quinnipiac Poll Has Support for Legalization Surging. Support for marijuana legalization has hit a new high in the latest Quinnipiac poll, released last Thursday. Pollsters found that 63% support federally legalizing marijuana, the highest number yet for this poll and in line with other recent polls showing support above 60%. "Voters are more favorable to legalizing marijuana than in any previous Quinnipiac survey," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the poll.

California Marijuana Banking Bill Advances. A bill that would make it easier for state marijuana businesses to use financial services has been approved by a second Senate committee. Senate Bill 930 would create a special class of state-chartered banks and credit unions that could process transactions from legal marijuana businesses. The bill won the approval of the Senate Banking and Financial Institutions Committee last week and now heads for an Appropriations Committee vote. A favorable vote there would take the bill to the Senate floor.

Illinois Bill to Expunge Old Possession Convictions Advances. A bill that would allow people convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana or paraphernalia to expunge their criminal records has been approved by the House Restorative Justice Committee. House Bill 2367 now heads to the House Rules Committee.

Maine Governor Vetoes Marijuana Legalization Implementation Bill. Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage has for the second time vetoed a measure aimed at implementing the state's voter-approved law allowing for legal marijuana commerce. The veto came last Friday, with LePage complaining that he didn't want separate medical marijuana and recreational marijuana programs and worrying about highway safety. The bill passed both houses by veto-proof margins, but LePage's veto could erode GOP support, allowing the veto to stand. Stay tuned.

Vermont Effort to Revive Marijuana Legalization Bill Fails. A last-minute push to resurrect the state's marijuana legalization bill emerged last Thursday, but fizzled out on Friday. The end came when the House's Democratic leadership decided it had other, more important, priorities for the last days of the legislative session.

Seattle Moves to Vacate Past Misdemeanor Marijuana Convictions. The city of Seattle has filed a motion in municipal court to vacate all past misdemeanor marijuana convictions in the city. The motion would affect some 542 people. The city is also requesting the dismissal of all outstanding misdemeanor marijuana charges.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Justices to Expedite Medical-Marijuana Case. The state Supreme Court has agreed to speed up its review of a ruling that has blocked the issuance of the state's first medical marijuana grow licenses. Some 220 medical marijuana dispensary applications are also on hold, and the state argued before the court that getting the licenses rolled out is a matter of significant public interest.

California Bill to Protect Patients' Employment Rights Advances. The Assembly Labor and Employment Committee voted last Wednesday to approve Assembly Bill 2069,which aims to end employment discrimination against medical marijuana patients by treating medical marijuana the same way current law treats prescription opioids and other drugs, by granting it "reasonable accommodation" under the state's Fair Employment and Housing Act. The bill now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Idaho Medical Marijuana Petitioners Give Up. There will be no medical marijuana initiative in Idaho this year. The head of the Idaho Medical Marijuana Association says she has stopped collecting signatures and dissolved the group to care for her ailing son. The group needed 36,000 signatures by Monday and wasn't close.Utah Democrats Make Support for Medical Marijuana a Platform Plank. At the state party convention Saturday, the Democratic Party added medical marijuana to the party platform. A ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana is likely to be on the ballot in November.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Charleston, West Virginia, Gives Up on Needle Exchanges. Even though West Virginia is the epicenter of the American opioid crisis, Charleston has shut down the city's needle exchange program, at least for now. City officials called the program a "mini-mall for junkies and drug dealers," and the chief of police imposed onerous restrictions on it, prompting Health Department officials to suspend the program rather than comply with them. The city's move is suggestive of the problems needle exchanges have in winning public acceptance, particularly in the smaller cities of the interior, where they are a relatively new phenomenon.

Drug Testing

Federal Judge Throws Out DC Random Drug Screening of Teachers. A federal district court judge ruled last Thursday that the District of Columbia's random drug screening policy violates the Fourth Amendment rights of teachers. The language mandating drug testing was rooted in a 2004 law that was largely neglected until 2013, when DC school officials issued a memorandum saying the facilities would be subject to the rule. A private school, two teachers, and a private school advocacy group sued the city. Now, they've won.

International

Zimbabwe Legalizes Medical Marijuana. The African country has approved the production and cultivation of marijuana for medicinal and research purposes. The health ministry issued an order saying individuals and companies can apply for licenses.

Mexico Cartel Murder of Three Students Results in Massive Peace Demonstration. More than 10,000 people took to the streets of Mexico's second largest city, Guadalajara, last Thursday to call for peace and demand justice for three film students who were kidnapped and murdered by members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. "The absurd war on drugs is taking our classmates and we will not allow it anymore,"said Jesus Medina, a student leader from the University of Guadalajara.

British Royal College of Physicians Calls for Drug Legalization. The Royal College of Physicians, representing some 26,000 British doctors, has called for the legalization of both soft and hard drugs, saying the criminal justice system fails to serve the interests of addicts. Instead of arresting drug users, they should be given "timely" care and support, the group said. "The criminal justice system is not the place to address the often complex needs of people addicted to drugs," said Jane Dacre, president of the RCP. "We are committed to ensuring that all people who need to do so are able to access timely and appropriate prevention and care services." The RCP adopted the policy at meeting of its general council.

Chronicle AM: MI Legalization Init Makes Ballot, MO House Okays MedMj Bill, More... (4/24/18)

Michigan could legalize marijuana come November, Mexico's leading presidential contender defends a proposal to use amnesty to fight drug violence, Maryland Democratic gubernatorial contender Ben Chavous says legalize marijuana, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge rejected a proposed marijuana legalization ballot initiative Tuesday. The initiative, the Arkansas Hemp and Cannabis Amendment, is similar to one rejected by Rutledge in 2016, and she crankily noted that the author, Robert Reed, had not really changed anything since then. "I rejected your proposed ballot title, and I instructed you to redesign the proposed measure and ballot title. For whatever reason, you have now submitted for my approval a popular name and ballot title for essentially the same proposal," she wrote.

Maryland Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Says Legalize It. Former president and CEO of the NAACP Ben Chavous is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, and he is calling for marijuana legalization and special preferences for people who live in areas most negatively affected by the war on drugs.

Michigan Legalization Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. Officials with the state Bureau of Elections announced Monday that a marijuana legalization initiative has qualified for the November ballot. Organizers needed 252,523 valid voter signatures to qualify; officials estimate they actually have 277,370. If voters approve the initiative, Michigan will become the first Midwestern state to free the weed.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri House Gives Initial Approval for Medical Marijuana Bill. The House on Tuesday gave initial approval to House Bill 1554, which would allow people over 18 dying of terminal diseases or suffering from Alzheimer's, PTSD, and other enumerated conditions to use smokeless marijuana. The bill faces one more House vote before going to the Senate.

International

Mexico's Leading Presidential Candidate Defends Proposed Amnesty to Fight Drug Violence. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), under fire from his competitors over a suggestion that he could use amnesty to curb drug violence, defended himself in a Tuesday night debate. He said he was willing to "speak with everybody" about ending the violence, and would even invite the pope. One candidate accused AMLO of "being on the side of the criminals," but all the candidates had to acknowledge the weakness of the police in the face of the challenge from organized crime.

(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 web site. 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.)

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