Mexican Drug War

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MD Pot Poll, Detroit Will Vote on Psychedelic Reform Next Week, More... (10/26/21)

The DEA selects some old blood to review its overseas operations, a new Maryland poll shows a slight decline in support for marijuana legalization--but still a majority--and more. 

Marijuana Policy

Maryland Poll Show Slight Dip in Support for Marijuana Legalization. Support for marijuana legalization in the state has dropped from 67 percent in March to 60 percent now, according to a new Goucher Poll. The poll has nearly two-thirds of Democrats supporting legalization, while just under half of Republicans do. The poll comes as the state legislature ponders whether to send a marijuana legalization question to the ballot next year.

Psychedelics

Detroit Will Vote on Natural Psychedelics Lowest Priority Initiative Next Week. Voters in Detroit will have a chance next Tuesday to approve municipal Proposal E, which would "make the personal possession and therapeutic use of Entheogenic Plants by adults the city's lowest law-enforcement priority." The proposal includes natural plant- and fungi-based psychedelics, such as peyote and magic mushrooms, but not synthesized psychedelics, such as LSD. If the measure passes, Detroit would join Ann Arbor among Michigan cities that have embraced psychedelic reforms. Ann Arbor decriminalized psychedelic plants in September 2020. A similar measure has been introduced in the state Senate by Sens. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit) and Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor).

Law Enforcement

DEA Announces Foreign Operations Review Team. In August, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced a comprehensive review of DEA’s foreign operations strategy to assess effectiveness, strengths, and areas for improvement. The agency announced Tuesday that the team will be led by two unreconstructed drug warriors, former DEA Administrator Jack Lawn and former Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Boyd Johnson, who conducted and supervised investigations in all eight of DEA's global regions. Johnson is currently a senior partner with the WilmerHale law firm, where he specialized in cross-border reviews around corruption, money laundering, and fraud. 

Book Review: The Dope [FEATURE]

The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade by Benjamin T. Smith (2021, W.W. Norton, 462 pp, $30 HB)

This past weekend, top-level American officials were in Mexico City meeting with their Mexican counterparts to discuss rebuilding cooperation in the endless struggle against Mexican drug trafficking organizations. The meeting comes nearly 15 years after then-President George W. Bush and then-Mexican President Felipe Calderon initiated the Merida Initiative to fight drugs, crime, and violence. In 2007, when the Merida Initiative began, there were about 2,300 drug-related deaths in Mexico. Fifteen years and $1.6 billion in US security assistance later, the annual Mexican death toll is north of 30,000, American overdose deaths largely linked to Mexican-supplied fentanyl are at an all-time high, and despite killing or capturing dozens of "kingpins," the so-called "cartels" are more powerful than ever.

In The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade, Mexico historian Benjamin T. Smith relates the story of another meeting between American and Mexican officials more than 80 years ago. It was at the League of Nations in 1939, and Mexican diplomat Manuel Tello was trying to sell the assembled narcotics experts on a novel approach to opioid addiction: Post-revolutionary Mexico had just passed a new drug law that allowed for state-run morphine dispensaries. Doing that could treat addiction and allow users to get their fix without resorting to a black market, he argued.

That proposal, one much in vogue in harm reduction and public health circles these days, was shot down by none other than Harry Anslinger, head of the American Federal Bureau of Narcotics and self-appointed dope cop to the world. He made it clear to the Mexicans, who had also irked him by challenging his Reefer Madness propaganda, that no such nonsense would be tolerated. That encounter, Smith's narrative makes clear, is emblematic of the US-Mexico relationship when it comes to drugs. The US, with its insatiable appetite for mind-altering substances, has for decades leaned on Mexico to repress the trade its citizens demand, and the results have for decades been dire.

As Smith shows, US pressure on Mexico to ramp up its anti-drug efforts, particularly in the 1940s and 1970s, produced temporary results but also long-term pathologies. Where Mexican authorities had been happy to manage the trade rather than repress it, Washington demanded strict enforcement and aggressive action. Harsher enforcement, including the resort to torture and murder (with the knowledge, encouragement, and sometimes the participation of DEA agents), produced a meaner criminal underworld. Smith especially notes the American insistence on a broad strategy of relying on informants as an aggravating factor in escalating trafficker violence, as traffickers turned on each other for revenge or to protect themselves from potential rats.

Smith also clarifies that the drug trade has always been seen not just as a scourge but as a resource by elements of the Mexican state. Early on, a post-revolutionary governor in Sinaloa taxed the opium traffickers and used the proceeds for public works. Governors in border states like Baja California and Chihuahua followed suit, taxing the trade, protecting favored traffickers and making exemplary busts of those without favored status to please the Americans. Although, as he notes, the politicians increasingly tended to forget the public works and just pocket the money themselves.

Smith described the structure of the relationship between the Mexican state and the drug traffickers as more a "protection racket" than an adversarial one Prior to the 1970s, the racket was carried out at the state level, with the governors and the state police forces providing the protection. Levels of violence were generally low, but likely to spike when a change of administration meant a new set of players in the racket and a new set of favored and disfavored traffickers. The favored traffickers could get rich; the unfavored ones could get jailed or killed as sacrificial lambs to appease the Americans.

In the 1970s, though, both the repression and the protection racket went national, with the mandate to fight the drug trade (and the license to manage it) going to the dreaded federales and their masters in the Ministry of Justice and the presidential palace. The levels of violence increasingly dramatically as the federales and the armed forces pleased the Americans by arresting, torturing, and killing marijuana- and opium-growing peasants as well as traffickers. Traffickers who could once accommodate themselves to the occasional exemplary short prison sentence now fought back when faced with death or years behind bars.

But in this century, thanks largely to fabulous profits from the cocaine trade, the drug traffickers have flipped the script. They no longer work for the cops; the cops now work for them. It's a process Smith refers to as "state capture," even if the state function that is being captured is illicit. Now, cops and politicians who don/t understand who is charge end up in unmarked graves or starring in horrid torture/murder videos.

The Dopeis a fascinating and sobering tale, full of colorful characters like Dr. Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra, the crusading post-revolutionary physician who argued that marijuana was harmless and whose government office was behind the morphine dispensary plan, and La Nacha, Ignacia Jasso, the dope queen of Ciudad Juarez for decades, along with a veritable rogue's gallery of traffickers, cops, spooks, and politicians, all of whom vie for control of the trade and its incredible profits.

It also reveals some broad findings. First, economics is the driving force of the drug trade, and the economic opportunity it has provided (and continues to provide) to millions of Mexicans means it is not going away, Second, as noted above, authorities have sought to harness income from the drug trade, with the result that they are now harnessed to it. Third, aggressive anti-drug policies are driven more by moral panics, the need for bureaucratic fundraising, and scapegoating, and "are rarely implemented for their effectiveness." Nor do they work, even on their own terms, as our current overdose death numbers shout out. Fourth, the causes of violence originate "not from inside the drug trade, but inside the state," particularly with the churning of protection rackets with the arrival of new political leadership. "The other principal cause of violence has been the war on drugs itself."

There is an extensive mythology around the Mexican drug trade. Benjamin T. Smith has gone along way toward dispelling those myths by providing an accurate, in-depth, well-sourced history of the trade and the domestic and international politics around it. To understand today's fearsome Mexican drug cartels, start here.

Booker & Warren Call on DOJ to Deschedule Marijuana; US & Mexico Meet to Forge New Relations on Crime & Drugs, More... (10/12/21)

California's governor vetoes a "contingency management" drug treatment bill, a pair of progressive senators call on the Justice Department to deschedule marijuana, and more.

Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) send letter to DOJ seeking marijuana descheduling. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Booker, Warren Call on DOJ to Decriminalize Cannabis. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent a letter last Wednesday to Attorney General Merrick Garland urging the Department of Justice (DOJ) to decriminalize cannabis by removing the drug from the Federal controlled substances list. Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA), the Attorney General can remove a substance from the CSA's list, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), based on the finding that it does not have the potential for abuse. Decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level via this descheduling process would allow states to regulate cannabis as they see fit, begin to remedy the harm caused by decades of racial disparities in enforcement of cannabis laws, and facilitate valuable medical research.

"While Congress works to pass comprehensive cannabis reform, you can act now to decriminalize cannabis," wrote Booker and Warren. "We urge the DOJ to initiate the process to decriminalize cannabis. Doing so would be an important first step in the broader tasks of remedying the harmful racial impact of our nation's enforcement of cannabis laws and ensuring that states can effectively regulate the growing cannabis industry, including by assisting small business owners and those most harmed by our historical enforcement of cannabis laws."

Drug Treatment

California Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Have Paid People to Stay Off Drugs. Governor Gavin Newsom (D) has vetoed a bill that would have made California the first state to embrace "contingency management," the drug treatment program in which users are paid money to stay sober, receiving increasing payments for each drug test passed. Such a program has been underway with military veterans for years, with research showing it is an effective way to get people off stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine, for which there are no pharmaceutical treatments available. Newsom had asked the federal government to allow the state to use federal tax dollars to pay for it through Medicaid, but still rejected Senate Bill 110 without explanation.

Foreign Policy

US, Mexico Meet to Restore Cross-Border Cooperation on Drugs, Crime. Leading Biden administration officials including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Attorney General Merrick Garland met with their Mexican counterparts in Mexico City Saturday to try to create a new framework for cooperation on drugs, crime, and border issues. The high-profile meeting comes after months of quiet talks to rebuild relations that grew especially fraught after DEA agents arrested a retired former senior Mexican military officer for alleged links to drug traffickers. That prompted the Mexicans to demand -- and obtain -- his release and to pass a law limiting the involvement of the DEA inside Mexico. The new framework appears to signal a break with Plan Merida, the more than decade-old security agreement under which billions of dollars in US security assistance went to help Mexico fight drug traffickers, but which also saw drug-related killings rise to record levels.

NE MedMJ Initiatives Get Rolling, Temporary Fentanyl Analog Ban Extended, Ecuador Prison Riot, More... (10/1/21)

The city of Raleigh pays out to people framed and jailed on drug charges, civil rights and drug reform groups criticize the inclusion of fentanyl analog scheduling in a stopgap spending bill, and more.

Afghan opium prices are up as actors worry about a Taliban ban on the poppy. (UNODC)
Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Advocates Launch Signature Drive for Medical Marijuana Ballot Measures. Activists organized as Nebraska Medical Marijuana on Friday rolled out a pair of medical marijuana initiatives, with signature gathering set to begin Saturday. Supporters will have until next July to gather the requisite number of signatures to qualify for the 2022 ballot. The effort comes after the Republican-led legislature has repeatedly blocked medical marijuana and after the state Supreme Court blocked a medical marijuana from the 2020 ballot even though it had met signature requirements. The court held that initiative violated the state's one-topic rule for initiatives. This time, activists have split the proposal into two initiatives, the Medical Cannabis Patient Protection Act, which would protect patients and caregivers from prosecution, and the Medical Cannabis Regulation Act, which would set up a state regulatory system.

Drug Policy

Civil Rights, Drug Reform Groups Criticize Stopgap Spending Bill for Extending Schedule I Status for Fentanyl-Related Drugs. Civil rights activists and drug policy experts said Friday they were disappointed that the stopgap spending bill passed by Congress Thursday extends the temporary classification of fentanyl-related substances as Schedule I drugs. The measure would "disproportionately impact people of color through harsher criminal penalties and expand mass incarcertation," the groups said, calling for health-centered policies including expanded access to harm reduction and treatment.

Law Enforcement

Raleigh, North Carolina, to Pay $2 Million to People Framed on Drug Charges. The city of Raleigh has agreed to pay 15 plaintiffs $2 million to settle a federal civil right lawsuit that charged officers worked with a confidential informant to frame people on drug trafficking charges. The civil rights lawsuit filed in April sought policy changes and actual and punitive damages from the city of Raleigh, Officer Omar Abdullah and seven of his colleagues, including a sergeant and a lieutenant. The suit was filed by a dozen people who were arrested after the snitch claimed they sold him heroin, and in one case, marijuana, but the drug turned out to be fake. Lawyers for the plaintiffs warned the city that more is coming: "We have informed the City of at least six additional potential plaintiffs who were harmed by this scheme. These individuals are all women and children who were detained or had guns pointed at them during SWAT style raids of their homes," they wrote. "We intend to seek justice for them as well." The original 15 plaintiffs spent a collective 2 ½ years in jail before charges were dismissed.

International

Afghan Opium Prices Rise in Wake of Taliban Take Over, Fears of Ban. The price of opium has tripled in Afghanistan took over last month and announced a possible ban. Farmers at markets in Kandahar province reported the price surge. Buyers are anticipating an opium shortage because of the possible ban "and that's driven up prices," one farmer said. The Taliban banned opium in 2000 in a bid to cultivate Western support, but every year since then, Afghanistan has been the world's leading opium producer. That Kandahar farmer doesn't think the Taliban "can eradicate all opium in Afghanistan," but is enjoying the high prices.

Mexican Drug Cartel Struggle Leads to Deadly Ecuador Prison Riot. At least 116 inmates have been killed in the Litoral prison in Guayaquil in rioting this week linked to a bitter struggle between rival Mexican cartels over cocaine trafficking routes through the country. The prison gangs doing battle with each other with machetes, guns, and grenades inside the penitentiary are linked to either the Sinaloa or the Jalisco New Generation cartels. This is the third major outbreak of prison violence in the country this year, with 79 killed in gang fights in three prisons in February and 22 more killed at Litoral in July.

Vancouver Clinic Offers Take-Home Prescription Heroin, Nepal Marijuana Protest, More... (9/20/21)

Violence linked to cartel infighting continues to rock Mexico's state of Michoacan, a Vancouver clinic is now offering take-home prescription heroin to a small number of patients, and more.

Pharmaceutical heroin. Now available as a take-home prescription drug in Vancouver. (Creative Commons)
nternational

Vancouver Clinic Doing Take-Home Prescription Heroin. In a North American first, the Providence Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver has begun providing take-home medical grade heroin to a small number of addicted patients. The program began as an emergency response to the COVID epidemic, when the provincial health authority allowed clinic staff to deliver syringes filled with heroin to patients so they could stay isolated for 10 to 14 days. "Having done that and done that successfully without any problems, we were able to show and demonstrate the strict requirement of the medication to only be [administered] at the clinic was not necessary," said Dr. Scott MacDonald, head physician at the clinic. The program is currently serving only 11 patients, but MacDonald said expanding the program is a crucial step toward addressing the province's opioid crisis, which has seen more than a thousand overdose deaths so far this year. "Their lives can change dramatically. People can go from accessing street opioids, perhaps having unstable housing and unable to work to stabilized and being able to work, and some people working full-time," he said.

Mexico's Michoacan Sees More Cartel Violence. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) besieged the Michoacan municipality of Tepalcatepec last week, killing and beheading five local men who were manning a checkpoint aimed at keeping cartel gunmen out of town. The cartel had tried to seize control of the city but was met with resistance from local residents and the National Guard. Cartel gunmen then switched their focus to the community of La Estanzuela, located near the border between Tepalcatepec and the Jalisco municipality of Jilotlán. The CJNG has been trying to take control of the region for the past two years and is locked in battle with the Carteles Unidos over control of the region and the state.

Nepal Protest for Marijuana Legalization. Sparked by the September 6 arrest of prominent marijuana legalization advocate Rajiv Kafle for consumption, possession, and distribution of marijuana, a youth group from Kathmandu Valley staged a protest calling for legalization at Maitighar on Monday. Protesters chanted slogans and held up signs citing the medicinal and economic benefits of legalization. Nepal has a history of cannabis use dating back centuries and its charas was enjoyed by Western travelers on the Hippie Trail in the 1060s, but under US pressure canceled the licenses for all cannabis businesses in 1973, and then criminalized cannabis in 1976.

Marijuana Use at All-Time High Among Young Adults, Cartel Violence Sparks Protests in Mexico's Michoacan, More... (9/8/21)

The latest Monitoring the Future survey finds marijuana use is at an all-time high among young adults; Georgia's Tybee Island, home of the state's largest public beach, decriminalizes pot possession, and more.

Tybee Island, Georgia, where the city council just decriminalized pot possession. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Use at All-Time High Among College-Aged Adults in 2020. Marijuana use continued to rise among college students over the past five years and remained at historically high levels among same-aged peers who are not in college in 2020, according to survey results from the 2020 Monitoring the Future (MTF) panel study. This represents the highest levels of marijuana use recorded since the 1980s. The survey also found that marijuana vaping and nicotine vaping leveled off in 2020 after sharp increases reported every year since 2017 for both college students and same-aged respondents who are not in college. Among college students specifically, there was also a significant increase in the annual use of hallucinogens, and a substantial and significant drop in current alcohol use between 2019 and 2020. The Monitoring the Future (MTF) study has been annually tracking substance use among college students and noncollege adults ages 19-22 since 1980. Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, the survey is conducted annually by scientists at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, Ann Arbor. Results are based on data from college students one to four years beyond high school graduation who are enrolled full-time in a two- or four-year college in March of the given year, compared with same-age high school graduates not enrolled full-time in college.

Georgia City, Home of State's Largest Public Beach, Decriminalizes Pot Possession. The city council in Tybee Island, home to the state's largest public beach, has approved an ordinance that imposes a maximum $150 fine for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, making pot possession no longer a criminal offense under the municipal code. Under state law, however, possession of up to an ounce remains a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. It is not clear how local police and prosecutors will handle such cases. Tybee Island is only the latest of more than a dozen other state cities and counties that have reduced penalties for marijuana possession.

International

Mexico's Michoacan Sees Protests Over Cartel Violence. Residents of the Tierra Caliente region of the central-western state of Michoacan, which has been the scene of ongoing clashes, blockades, and disruptions caused by competing criminal organizations, took to the streets over the weekend to demand military intervention to confront the cartels. "Hugs, not bullets doesn't work in Tepalcatepec, Aguililla and Coalcomán. The federal government is abandoning its people, massacred by the CJNG [Jalisco New Generation Cartel]," read one banner held up by protesters outside a military base in Apatzingán. "Hugs, not bullets" is a slogan of the policy of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of addressing the root causes of violence rather than confronting the cartels with force. The municipalities of Aguililla, Apatzingan, Buenavista, Coalcoman, and Tepalcatepec have been particularly hard-hit, where more than 3,000 fled the violence in August. In recent days, about 1,000 people have fled and taken shelter at a sports center in Tepalcatepec. "We're being displaced from our homes, we're afraid, they're throwing bombs and grenades at us," one woman told the newspaper Reforma at Sunday's protest." … [President] López Obrador must listen to us. We're hungry and cold, we're calling on the relevant authorities to support us, not just authorities of the state but also the United Nations and UNICEF… Children have no homes because [organized] crime has destroyed their homes with flamethrowers. We need help from… all the forces of Mexico…," she said.

NJ Regulators Approve Rules for Recreational Pot Market, Mexico President Could Free Aged Killer Drug Lord, More....(8/24/21)

A Mississippi legislative special session to pass a medical marijuana bill is still possible, New Jersey moves one step closer to legal recreational marijuana sales, and more.

Mexican President Lopez Obrador is considering releasing Felix Gallardo, jailed in the killing of a DEA agent in 1985. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Regulators Approves Rules for Recreational Marijuana Market. The state's marijuana regulators last week approved rules for setting up the recreational marijuana market, paving the way for legal sales to begin, although the date that might happen remains uncertain. The rules give priority in applications to women-, minority-, and disabled veteran-owned businesses. The director of the five-person commission, Jeff Brown, said the next step will be a notification that applications are being accepted. Commission Chairperson Dianna Houenou said the commission wants to see that the application process is proceeding smoothly before setting a start date for sales. “We know that there is a lot of interest in getting this market up and running and we were duty-bound to do it right."

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Special Session to Pass Medical Marijuana Still Possible. Lawmakers are still working on reaching a consensus on a medical marijuana bill with the hope that Gov. Tate Reeves (R) will hew to his vow to call a special session to get medical marijuana approved in the state. The push for the special session comes after voters approved medical marijuana at the polls last year, only to see the state Supreme Court invalidate the initiative. The state constitution requires that initiative petitions contain signatures from each of the state's five congressional districts, but the state has only had four districts since redistricting in 2000, and the legislature has not acted in the two decades since to rectify the constitutional conundrum. “I think the parties are close enough at this point or will be in the foreseeable future, that if the governor so chose to call a special session," said Representative Trey Lamar. "I don’t believe that it would take too long to get the parties to put a measure together and get it passed," he said. "The ball is in the governor’s hands. If he wants to do it then we’ll respond and we’ll come to Jackson and we’ll get it done. If not, then I guess we’ll wait until January."

International

Mexican President Open to Freeing Drug Lord Jailed for 1985 Murder of DEA Agent. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said last Friday he was open to freeing imprisoned drug lord Angel Felix Gallardo, who has been behind bars for decades in Mexico for his role in the 1985 killing of DEA agent Enrique Camarena outside Guadalajara. Lopez Obrador cited Gallardo's old age and poor health. Gallardo, 75, is blind in one eye, deaf in one ear, and cannot walk. He called Lopez Obrador "a man of good will" in a televised interview last week. Responding to a question about that interview, Lopez Obrador said: "If it is justified ... of course, yes. "I also want him to understand my situation, that I do not want anyone to suffer. I do not want anyone to be in jail. I am a humanist," said Lopez Obrador, adding that prosecutors would review the case. Last month, Lopez Obrador proposed releasing thousands of inmates who were elderly, had been tortured, or suffered from health problems, as well as non-serious offenders.

Federal Prisons Failing on Providing Medication-Assisted Opioid Treatment, Mexico Cartel Threat, More... (8/10/21)

Korea is arresting more people on drug charges, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel is threatening to kill a TV anchor over "unfair" coverage, and more.

Buprenorphine. Only 2% of eligible federal prisoners are receiving bupe or methadone to treat opioid addiction. (Pixabay)
Drug Treatment

Federal Prisons Failing to Provide Access to Medications for Opioid Addiction. The 2018 First Step Act required the federal prison system to expand access to medications to treat opiate addiction, but the Marshall Project reports that "bureaucratic inertia and outdated thinking about addiction programs means the federal program is still serving only a tiny fraction of those eligible." The Bureau of Prisons estimates that more than 15,000 federal prisoners were eligible for medication-assisted treatment, but only 268, or less than 2%, were receiving them. We are talking about methadone and buprenorphine here, but the Bureau of Prisons "lacks key planning elements to ensure this significant expansion is completed in a timely and effective manner."

International

Mexican Drug Cartel Threatens to Kill TV News Anchor Over "Unfair" Coverage. Masked men claiming to represent the Jalisco New Generation Cartel have released a video where they threaten to kill Milenio TV anchor Azucena Uresti over what they called "unfair" coverage. The cartel claimed that Milenio, a national cable news channel, was favoring "self-defense" vigilante groups that have been battling the cartel in Michoacan. JNGC claims the vigilantes are actually rival drug traffickers, and threatened to kill Uresti and make her eat her words. Threats against journalists are not mere words in Mexico. Dozens have been killed in recent years, and the Committee to Protect Journalists says Mexico is the deadliest country in the Western Hemisphere for journalists.

South Korea Arresting More People for Drugs. The Office for Government Policy Coordination has released a report showing drug arrests between January and July jumped 8.6% over the same period last year. The office also reported that the number of cases of drugs seized entering the country in international shipments shot up nearly three-fold to just over 600. The total number of drug arrests during the period was 7,565. Drug use is not tolerated and is relatively rare in South Korea, as is reflected in seizure numbers: Total seizures of marijuana were at just over 100 pounds and total seizures of other drugs, including heroin and methamphetamine, totaled slightly more than 300 pounds. 

Biden Vows to Continue Pressure on China over Opioids, Chiapas Militia Emerges to Fight Cartels, More... (7/23/21)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez files an amendment to encourage psychedelic research, President Biden says he will stay tough on Chinese opioid exports, and more.

President Biden vows to keep pressuring China on opioids, but a better approach may be to ramp up harm reduction here.
Psychedelics

AOC Files Amendment to Promote Psychedelic Research in Omnibus Appropriations Bill. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has for the second time filed an amendment to a multi-agency appropriations bill that aims to promote research into psychedelics such by removing a rider than has been in effect since 1996 that bars the use of federal dollars "any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance in Schedule I." A description of the amendment says it is designed to allow "United States researchers to study and examine the potential impacts of several schedule I drugs, such as MDMA, psilocybin, and or ibogaine, that have been shown to be effective in treating critical diseases. She introduced an earlier version of the amendment in 2019 only to see it voted down in a bipartisan and overwhelming fashion, but has a lot has changed in the realm of psychedelics since then.

Foreign Policy

Biden Vows to Continue Pressure on China over Opioids. At a town hall meeting in Cincinnati Wednesday, President Joe Biden vowed to continue "this encounter with China" over opioids, saying that his administration is "addressing the opioid issue" by increasing the number of people in the Justice Department. Biden has repeatedly criticized China, which is a major source of fentanyls and precursor chemicals that go into Mexico and from there into the US, accusing it of failing to crack down on drug trafficking. China banned two fentanyl precursors in 2018, but has not taken additional steps since then.

"I don't think we can do much to delay the export of these drugs in these countries, said Ben Westhoff, author of Fentanyl, Inc., arguing instead for enhanced harm reduction measures at home. In that book, Westhoff put the number of Chinese chemical companies at more than 400,000.

International

Mexico's Chiapas State Sees Formation of Militia to Counter Drug Cartels. A newly formed and heavily armed indigenous militia announced its presence by marching masked and armed through the streets of Pantelho in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas last weekend. The militia, calling itself "El Machete," said in an online manifesto that it is a "David" fighting against the "Goliath" of drug cartels and their assassins, and that it seeks peace, democracy, and justice. While self-defense militias to fend off organized crime have been sporadically active in states such as Michoacan and Guerrero for years, "El Machete" is the first such group to emerge in Chiapas, which attracts competing drug trafficking groups because of its location on the Guatemalan border, and which was the birthplace of the Zapatista uprising back in 1994.

Surgeon General Say Don't Jail People for Pot, ME Law Ends Civil Asset Forfeiture, More... (7/19/21)

The AMA Advocacy Update chronicles one doctor's problems trying to prescribe for chronic pain and addicted patients, Maine becomes the fourth state to end civil asset forfeiture, and more.

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says it is time to stop locking people up for marijuana. (hhs.gov)
Marijuana Policy

US Surgeon General Says Time to Stop Locking People Up for Marijuana. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Sunday that it is time to stop locking up people for using marijuana. "When it comes to decriminalization, I don't think that there is value to individuals or to society to lock people up for marijuana use," Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in a CNN appearance. "I don't think that serves anybody well." His comments came in response to a question about a new draft marijuana legalization bill, and are in line with President Biden, who supports marijuana decriminalization, but not commercial legalization. "When it comes to marijuana, I think we have to let science guide us," Murthy said in the CNN interview. "And we know that the science tells us that there are some benefits to marijuana from a medical perspective but there are also some harms that we have to consider -- and we have to put those together as we think about the right policy."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

AMA on a Doctor's Trials Trying to Treat Pain Patients in the Context of Arbitrary Policies. The American Medical Association (AMA) Advocacy Update has published a piece on the travails of southern Illinois family medicine and addiction medicine specialist Dr. Aaron Newcomb, whose patients found themselves unable to refill prescriptions after he was "blacklisted" by a pharmacy chain citing 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines aimed at reducing opioid prescribing in the face of a rising opioid overdose death toll.

"When the CDC guidelines came down in 2016 basically saying we needed to take as many people as we could off opioids, I knew that my patients were in for a world of trouble," said Dr. Newcomb. "I was particularly concerned about my patients who were stable on low-dose opioid therapy for years. And my concerns have translated into an even worse reality for both me and my patients. Getting blacklisted by a national chain who had no clue about my practice was professionally wrong, but it also hurt my patients and my community."

Newcomb had to explain the nuances of pain prescribing to the pharmacy chain: "When they got back to us, they basically questioned a specific formulation of buprenorphine I was prescribing for stable patients with cost or tolerability problems that isn't a preferred type unless there is a clinical reason," Dr. Newcomb explained. "They were also concerned about opioid therapy in general as well as the dose of buprenorphine used to effectively treat patients, and their algorithm out of context painted a misrepresentative picture of my controlled-substance prescribing habits."

Newcomb was eventually able to get back in the chain's good graces and his patients are now receiving their medication, but his case illustrates the challenges faced by pain physicians and their patients in a time where the opioid-prescribing pendulum has swung so dramatically back to the conservative side.

Asset Forfeiture

Maine Becomes 4th State to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. A new law barring asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction went into effect without the signature of Gov. Janet Mills (D), making Maine the fourth state to abolish the practice of civil asset forfeiture. The legislature earlier this year passed LD 1521, which fully repeals the state's civil forfeiture laws, while also strengthening the criminal forfeiture process. While touted as a tool against drug dealers, one report found that half of all forfeitures in the state were under $1,670 dollars. The other three states that have ended civil asset forfeiture are North Carolina (1985), New Mexico (2915) and Nebraska (2016).

International

Mexico President Makes Rare Call for Dismissal of a State Attorney General. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called last Friday for the resignation of Guanajuato state Attorney General Carlos Zamarripa after the state registered 1,562 murders in the first five months of this year. That figure is higher than any other state, even though Guanajuato is only the country's sixth most populous states. He also suggested there was corruption or collusion with some of the drug cartels battling to control the state. "If he [Zamarripa] were the manager of a company, with this kind of performance they would have fired him," López Obrador said Friday. "When officials do not act with honesty, with rectitude, when there is no division between criminals and the authorities, no progress can be made." López Obrador said.

Zammaripe, who has been attorney general for 12 years, has been accused by businessmen and local experts of being close to the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel, which had such control over an oil refinery that it could brazenly steal fuel in and around the plant, leading to a federal troop deployment. "Carlos Zamarripa for many years protected El Marro," the leader of the Santa Rosa de Lima gang who was arrested in 2020," said security expert David Saucedo. But now, said Saucedo, Zamarripa seems to have changed sides, expecting the Santa Rosa gang to fall apart as the Jalisco New Generation cartel moved in. Instead, the Sinaloa cartel sent reinforcements to assist the Santa Rosa gang, and the death toll has skyrocketed. "Definitely, Zamarripa is part of the problem," Saucedo said.

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