Mexican Drug War

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Arkansas Pot Initiative Cleared for November, CO Psilocybin Initiative Trailing, More... (9/23/22)

Republicans seek political advantage by calling Mexican cartels "terrorist organizations," the FDA eases rules for groups distributing the opioid overdose reversal drug nalxone, and more.

Colorado magic mushroom proponents have an uphill fight ahead of them, a new poll suggests. (Greenoid/Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Supreme Court Okays Marijuana Legalization Initiative for November Ballot. The state Supreme Court on Thursday held that the Responsible Growth Arkansas marijuana legalization initiative will be counted after all. The move comes after the Board of Election Commissioners ruled that the measure's ballot title was misleading, but the high court disagreed, holding that "initiative power lies at the heart of our democratic institutions" and that the board and prohibitionist groups who had intervened in the case "have not met their burden of proving that the ballot title is insufficient."

Psychedelics

Colorado Poll Has Psilocybin Initiative Trailing. A new poll has the magic mushroom decriminalization initiative, Proposition 122, well south of the 50 percent plus one votes needed to pass in November. The Fox 31/Chennel2/Emerson College/The Hill poll had only 36 percent supporting the measure, with 41 percent opposed and 23 percent undecided. While the large number of undecideds leaves room for hope, they would have to break pretty decisively in favor of the initiative for it to get over the top. Only Democrats favored the initiative (53 percent), while 61 percent of Republicans opposed it. Two racial/ethnic groups emerge as opponents: 64 percent of Blacks oppose it, as do 63 percent of multiracial voters.

Harm Reduction

Opioid Reversal Drug Access to Ease Under Relaxed FDA Rules. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) announced Thursday that harm reduction programs distributing the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone will not have to comply with certain federal product tracing requirements. The agency said it would not enforce certain Drug Supply Chain Security Act requirements on programs that are distributing the drug to at-risk communities while an opioid public health emergency exists. "Combating the opioid overdose epidemic is an urgent public health priority for FDA," the agency wrote in the guidance. The FDA "is committed to advancing solutions to reduce opioid overdose deaths in the United States, including by supporting efforts to increase public availability of and access to naloxone."

Foreign Policy

GOP Senators File Bill Designating Drug Cartels as Terrorist Organization. Sens. Roger Marshall (R-KS) and Rick Scott (R-FL) filed a bill Tuesday to formally designate Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations. The Drug Cartel Terrorist Designation Act. "The illicit drugs and other deadly activities being carried out by cartels are killing Americans at record rates. Since Joe Biden and the Democrats continue to turn a blind eye, we are going to do something about it by designating the drug cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations," said Sen. Marshall. "As these cartels continue to invade our porous southern border in an increasingly militarized approach, this designation is needed to ramp up our efforts to combat them. We will not rest in our fight to stop fentanyl’s terrible scourge wreaking havoc in Kansas and across the US." Nonetheless, Mexican cartels are not foreign terrorist organizations; they are drug trafficking organizations.

GOP Texas Governor Designates Mexican Cartels as Terrorist Organizations. Gov. Gregg Abbott issued an executive order Tuesday that designated specified Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations, although since Texas does not set US foreign policy it is not clear just exactly what that means. The order instructs the state Department of Public Safety (DPS) "to take immediate action to keep Texans safe amid the growing national fentanyl crisis." Abbott also directed DPS to identify Texas gangs that support the cartels and seize their assets. 

ND Legal Pot Initiative Qualifies for Ballot, Appalachian Senators Call for More Drug War, More... (8/16/22)

A South Dakota marijuana legalization initiative draws organized opposition, Mexico's week of cartel violence raises questions, and more.

North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Becomes Fifth State to Put a Marijuana Legalization Initiative on the Ballot This Year. The secretary of state's office announced Tuesday that a marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by New Approach North Dakota has qualified for the November ballot. Similar measures have already qualified for the ballot in Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, and South Dakota, while an effort in Oklahoma awaits a final signature count. The initiative would legalize marijuana for people 21 and over. They would be able to purchase, possess, transport, and distribute up to an ounce and 500 milligrams of THC. There is also a home grow provision allowing for up to three plants. The initiative also envisions a commercial sector licensed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaigns Sees Organized Opposition Emerge. Even as the sponsors of the IM 27 marijuana legalization initiative gear up to free the weed for the second time in two years (the 2020 victory was annulled by the state Supreme Court at the behest of GOP Gov. Kristi Noem), organized opposition is emerging. In late July, a group calling itself Protecting South Dakota's Kids filed paperwork with the state as a statewide ballot question committee. It is led by Jim Kinyon, with Fred Deutsch as treasurer. Deutsch is a Republic legislator who is fiercely anti-marijuana.

"Legal marijuana will destroy our communities," says the group's web site. "Protecting South Dakota Kids is a grassroots coalition made up of concerned citizens, healthcare professionals, pastors, educators, treatment providers, law enforcement, and other professionals." But IM 27 backers don't seem too concerned: "Quite a few politicians, including Governor Noem, have realized that disrespecting the will of the people is not a great political strategy," said campaign spokesman Matt Schweich. "We want to earn every vote we can and we want to exceed the 54% outcome in 2020."

Law Enforcement

Appalachian Senators Call for More Drug War. In a Tuesday letter to Dr.Rahul Gupta, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), a bipartisan group of senators from Appalachian states called for "additional assistance to combat drug-trafficking in the Appalachian region." The letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty (both R-TN). They want more resources and more designations of High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs).

"These additional federal resources, allocated to areas deemed as critical drug trafficking regions, are essential in eliminating drug trafficking and its harmful consequences. ONDCP has the statutory authority to create new HIDTAs and add new counties to existing HIDTAs once it has received a formal petition from a coalition of law enforcement agencies," the senators said in a press release. "Despite the enormous need, historically the Appalachian HIDTA has only gained approval for approximately 30 percent of petitions submitted. In the most recent round of designations, no counties within the Appalachian HIDTA -- which encompasses Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Southwest Virginia -- received the sought-after designation. This fact, juxtaposed with the region's manifest need, suggests strongly that the process of awarding needs to be revisited."

International

Mexico's Week of Cartel Violence Shakes Administration. Last week was a week of chaos as Mexican drug cartels ran amok in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez as well as in the states of Coahuila, Guanajauto, and Jalisco, and that has left the government of President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) looking for answers. AMLO himself suggested the attacks were part of a political conspiracy: "I don't know if there was a connection, a hidden hand, if this had been set up," he said. "What I do know is that our opponents, the corrupt conservatives, help in the black propaganda."

Defense Secretary Luis Crescencio Sandoval claimed the cartels lashed out because they feel they have been weakened. That may be a more plausible explanation than AMLO's. While AMLO took office in 2018 pledging "hugs not bullets" for violent drug trafficking organizations, in the past year his strategy has shifted Last year, Mexican soldiers were criticized for simply sitting in their bases and watching as cartels battled each other, but this year has seen more attempt to capture major traffickers, including the capture of Rafael Caro Quintero, and more meth lab busts.

"There has been a change in the strategy in fighting drug cartels. Andrés Manuel has been very much criticized recently for his 'hugs, not bullets strategy," security analyst David Saucedo said. "I think that due to pressure from Joe Biden, he is changing that and agreeing to capture high-profile drug traffickers. The narco-terrorism of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel is a reaction to the president's change in strategy," Saucedo said. "If the Mexican president continues with this strategy of capturing high-ranking members of the Jalisco cartel, the Jalisco cartel is going to respond with acts of narcoterrorism in the states it controls as part of its vast empire."

CA Psychedelic Decrim Bill Dies, Mexico Cartels Wreak Havoc, More... (8/15/22)

Another Texas poll has solid majority support for marijuana legalization, cartel violence flares in Mexico, and more.

Mexican security forces deployed to several major cities to deal with cartel violence. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Another Texas Poll Has Majority Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from the Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler has support for marijuana legalization at 55 percent. Support is even higher for medical marijuana at 72 percent. Legalization had the support of 65 percent of Democrats 63 percent of independents, but only 43 percent of Republicans. Recent state polls have consistently had majorities for legalization, but one poll released late last year had support even higher at 67 percent. Regardless of popular support, marijuana legalization has made no progress in the GOP-dominated state legislature.

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Dies. State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) is walking away from his bill to decriminalize the possession of some psychedelics, Senate Bill 519, after it was amended in committee to delete the language decriminalizing psychedelics. "I've now confirmed that SB 519 -- decriminalizing possession and use of small quantities of certain psychedelic drugs -- was amended by the Assembly Appropriations Committee to remove the decriminalization aspect of the bill," Wiener said. "(SB 519) is limited to a study. While I am extremely disappointed by this result, I am looking to reintroducing this legislation next year and continuing to make the case that it's time to end the War on Drugs. Psychedelic drugs, which are not addictive, have incredible promise when it comes to mental health and addiction treatment. We are not giving up."

International

Mexico's Coahuila State Sees Clashes Between Security Forces, Cartel Gunmen. Mexican security forces killed seven members of a drug cartel Sunday after a convoy of cartel trucks rolled into the town of Villa Union and attacked the city hall on Saturday. Soldiers killed seven more cartel gunmen Saturday. The clashes also left four police officers and two civilians dead. Bullet-riddled trucks left abandoned on the streets carried the initials CDN, the Spanish initials for the Cartel of the Northeast.

Mexican National Guard Troops Swarm Tijuana After Cartels Shut Down City Friday Night. Armed and hooded men believed to be cartel operatives caused mayhem across the city Friday night, burning at least 15 cars and buses in the city and using them to block roadways. Nine more vehicle fires were reported in nearby in Mexicali, Rosarito Beach, Tecate and Ensenada. At the same time, The Jalisco New Generation Cartel declared it was implementing a curfew in the city. Now, the Mexican government has sent in 3,000 National Guard troops to restore order.

Mexican Cartel Wreaks Havoc in Guanajuato and Jalisco After Mexican Army Raids Gang Boss Meeting. An army raid at a meeting of drug gang bosses in the state of Jalisco last week has led to revenge attacks in that state and neighboring Guanajuato state. Drug cartel gunmen burned more than two dozen convenience stores and blocked roads with burning buses in a number of municipalities across the two states. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the initial raid had led to a shoot-out between police and gang members "this provoked protests of burned vehicles, not only in Jalisco, but also in Guanajuato." The US Consulate in Guadalajara warned Americans that: "Local authorities and media are reporting multiple road blockades, burning vehicles, and shootouts between Mexican security forces and unspecified criminal elements in various parts of the Guadalajara metropolitan area."

Mexican Troops Head to Ciudad Juarez After Cartels Clash in Deadly Prison Riot. Hundreds of Mexican soldiers were deployed to Ciudad Juarez Friday after a prison battle and shoot-outs between Los Chapos -- members of the Sinaloa Cartel -- and local gang Los Mexicles left 11 dead, most of them civilians, a day earlier. In the prison riot, two Mexicles were shot and killed, and afterwards they rampaged through the city, killing nine civilians including four employees of a radio station.

Cheaper and More Accessible Naloxone In the Works, Colombian Drug War Critic is Now President, More... (8/8/22)

A Congressional Research Service report zeroes in on the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, the Remedy Alliance is easing naloxone bottlenecks, and more.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro (Creative Commons)
Harm Reduction

Naloxone Access About to Get Easier. Thanks to an informal buyers' club for naloxone that has morphed into an entity known as the Remedy Alliance, access to inexpensive naloxone -- the opioid overdose reversal drug -- is getting easier. The Alliance credits two major developments for the urgently needed breakthrough. First, they have managed to reach agreements with drug manufacturers to get the drug at a discount rate, and second, they have restructured to a system that allows local harm reduction groups to order the drug through an online store, getting around a labyrinthine web of federal regulations that has bottlenecked the flow of the drug amidst the ongoing overdose crisis.

"We think this will totally change the landscape of naloxone in the United States," said Nabarun Dasgupta, the nonprofit's board president and a scientist at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The group, formerly known as the Opioid Safety and Naloxone Network Buyers Club, has already reversed thousands of opioid overdoses and distributed 1.3 million doses of naloxone last year. Now, the Alliance expects to distribute 2 million doses this year.

International

Ex-Leftist Rebel, Drug War Critic Assumes Office as Colombia's President. Gustavo Petro, a former member of the leftist M-19 guerrilla army, was sworn into office Sunday, helping to cement an emerging leftist bloc around the region, consisting of Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela and, most likely, Brazil after its October election. He said Colombia was getting a "second chance" to fight violence and poverty. He also said he was preparing to start peace talks with various armed groups around the country, and he called on the United States to change its prohibitionist approach to drug policy. "It's time for a new international convention that accepts that the war on drugs has failed," he said. "Of course, peace is possible. But it depends on current drug policies being substituted with strong measures that prevent consumption in developed societies."

Jalisco New Generation Cartel Present in 27 of Mexico's 37 States, Congressional Report Finds. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), the country's most powerful, now operates in 27 states and Mexico City, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The report, "Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations," says that the CJNG is the dominant criminal force in six states: Jalisco, Nayarit, Colima, Guerrero, Mexico, and Veracruz. It is weakest in Mexico's northwest, where the Sinaloa Cartel still dominates. CRS described the CJNG as an "extremely powerful cartel" that has a "reputations for extreme and intimidating violence." It also noted that the DEA "considers the CJNG a top US threat and Mexico's best-armed criminal group."

"The CJNG built its dominance internationally first through extending its presence through a rapid expansion inside Mexico," CRS said. "In 2016, many analysts maintained the CJNG controlled a territory equivalent to almost half of Mexico. The group has battled Los Zetas and Gulf Cartel factions in Tabasco, Veracruz, and Guanajuato, as well as the Sinaloa… [Cartel] in the Baja Peninsula and Chihuahua." The CJNG's ambitious expansion campaign was characterized by high levels of violence, particularly in Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana.

By taking over key ports on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the CJNG has consolidated "important components of the global narcotics supply chain," the CRS said. "In particular, the CJNG maintains reported control over the ports of Veracruz, Manzanillo, and Lázaro Cárdenas, which has given the group access to precursor chemicals that flow into Mexico from China and other parts of Latin America," the report said. As a result, according to some analysts, the CJNG has pursued an aggressive growth strategy underwritten by US demand for Mexican methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl… Despite leadership losses, the CJNG has extended its geographic reach and maintained its own cohesion while exploiting the infighting among factions of the Sinaloa organization."

CA Marijuana Lounges Set to Expand, Coca Clashes in Bolivia, More... (8/3/22)

The country's largest federal workers' union wants an end to marijuana testing of employees in states where it is legal, Mexican cartel gunmen get in a shootout with the Guatemalan president's guards at a border village, and more.

An Amsterdam cannabis "coffee shop." More shops like this are coming to California. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Largest Federal Workers' Union Calls for Ending Marijuana Testing for Most Government Employees in Legal States. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the nation's largest union representing federal workers, adopted a resolution earlier this summer supporting marijuana legalization and calling for an end to marijuana testing and other policies that penalize marijuana-using employees in states where it is legal. Only the title of the resolution, "Resolution to Support Deleting Responsible Off-Duty Marijuana Usage from Suitability Criteria," has been posted, not its actual text. But a draft version of the text included support for marijuana legalization and urged the US Office of Personnel Management to "rescind its policies regarding pre-employment use and off-duty use of cannabis by federal employees in non- safety-sensitive, non-national security positions to the extent such cannabis use is permitted by state or District of Columbia law." The AFGE represents more than 700,000 federal workers.

California Marijuana Consumption Lounges Set to Take Off. After a slow start because of pandemic shutdowns and local concerns, marijuana consumption lounges appear set to expand across the state. Most lounges in the state are currently centered in the San Francisco Bay area (there is only one in the Los Angeles area, in West Hollywood), but now lounges are getting the go-ahead from municipalities in Southern California and the Central Valley. That means the number of lounges in the state could double from the current dozen or so. Right now, new lounges are approved to open in Fresno, Riverside, San Diego, and Ventura counties, with more in the pipeline.

International

Bolivia Coca Growers Clash with Police in La Paz. Fighting broke out in the capital city of La Paz between hundreds of coca growers from the Association of Coca Producers (Adepcoca) joined by other opponents of leftist President Luis Arce and the police. The clashes are over the commercialization of coca and who will benefit from it. Adepcoca is facing off against pro-government coca growers over who will control the Adepcoca market, through which 90 percent of the country's legal coca crop passes. They accuse the pro-government growers of running a parallel market. The same conflict led to violence clashes in La Paz last year, too. Tuesday's clashes feature coca growers throwing firecrackers and dynamite caps with responding with volleys of tear gas. "We are asking that this alleged market for the sale of coca, which has nothing to do with the legal market of Adepcoca, be closed immediately," said protest leader Carlos Choque. "We will not be afraid if they want to 'shoot' us, we are here." Protest leaders said the protests would continue until the parallel market is closed.

Mexico Drug Cartel Attacks Guatemalan Presidential Convoy. Gunmen from the Jalisco New Generation Cartel launched an attack Saturday on a Guatemalan presidential convoy at the village of La Laguna on the Guatemala-Mexico border Saturday. President Alejandro Giammattei was reportedly not involved in the incident. The presidential guard had been traveling around the village when it spotted armed gunmen approaching. The soldiers told the gunmen to back off, but they instead opened fire. One local cartel leader was wounded and subsequently arrested with the rest of the gunmen fleeing into Mexico, where Mexican authorities arrested four Guatemalan nationals. The JNGC operates extensively in Guatemala.

Chronicle Book Review: Opium's Orphans

Chronicle Book Review: Opium's Orphans: The 200-Year History of the War on Drugs by P.E. Caquet (2022, Reaktion Books, 400 pp., $35.00 HB)

The history of drug prohibition is increasingly well-trodden territory, but with Opium's Orphans, British historian P.E. Caquet brings a fascinating new perspective embedded in a sweeping narrative and fortified with an erudite grasp of the broad global historical context. Although Asian bans on opium pre-dated 19th Century China (the Thai monarchy announced a ban in the 1400s), for Caquet, the critical moment in what became a linear trajectory toward global drug prohibition a century later came when the Qing emperor banned opium in 1813 and imposed severe penalties on anything to do with it, including possessing it. Precisely 100 years later, after two Opium Wars imposed opium on the empire followed by decades of diplomatic wrangling over how to suppress the trade (and for moralizing Americans, how to win favor with China), the 1913 Hague Opium Convention ushered in the modern war on drugs with its targeting not just of opium (and coca) producers or sellers but also of mere users for criminal prosecution. It urged countries to enact such laws, and they did.

What began at the Hague would eventually grow into an international anti-drug bureaucracy, first in the League of Nations and then in United Nations bodies such as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the International Narcotics Control Board. But it is a global prohibition regime that has, Caquet writes, straight-jacketed itself with an opium-based perspective that has proven unable or unwilling to recognize the differences among the substances over which it seeks dominion, reflexively resorting to opium and its addiction model. Drugs such as amphetamines, psychedelics, and marijuana don't really fit that model -- they are the orphans of the book's title -- and in a different world would be differently regulated.

But Opium's Orphans isn't just dry diplomatic history. Caquet delves deep into the social, cultural, and political forces driving drug use and drug policies. His description of the spread of opium smoking among Chinese elites before it spread into the masses and became declasse is both finely detailed and strangely evocative of the trajectory of cocaine use in the United States in the 1970s, when it was the stuff of rock musicians and Hollywood stars before going middle class and then spreading among the urban poor in the form of crack.

Along the way, we encounter opium merchants and colonial opium monopolies, crusading missionary moralists, and early Western proponents of recreational drug use, such as Confessions of an English Opium Eater author Thomas De Quincey and the French habitues of mid-19th Century hashish clubs. More contemporaneously, we also meet the men who achieved international notoriety in the trade in prohibited drugs, "drug lords" such as Khun Sa in the Golden Triangle, Pablo Escobar in Colombia and El Chapo Guzman in Mexico, as well as the people whose job it is to hunt them down. Caquet notes that no matter how often a drug lord is removed -- jailed or killed, in most cases -- the impact on the trade is negligible.

For Caquet, drug prohibition as a global phenomenon peaked with the adoption of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Coming as it did amidst a post-World War II decline in drug use around the world, the treaty criminalizing coca, cocaine, opium and opioids, and marijuana seemed to ratify a successful global prohibitionist effort. (In the US, in the 1950s, when domestic drug use was at low ebb, Congress passed tough new drug laws.) But before the decade was over, drug prohibition was under flamboyant challenge from the likes of LSD guru Timothy Leary and a horde of hippie pot smokers. The prohibitionist consensus was seeing its first cracks.

And the prohibitionist response was to crack down even harder, which in turn begat its own backlash. Drug use of all sorts began rising around the world in the 1960s and hasn't let up yet, and the increasingly omnivorous drug war machine grew right along with it, as did the wealth and power of the illicit groups that provided the drugs the world demanded. As the negative impacts of the global drug war -- from the current opioid overdose crisis in the US to the prisons filled with drug offenders to the bloody killing fields of Colombia and Mexico -- grew ever more undeniable, the critiques grew ever sharper.

In recent years, the UN anti-drug bureaucrats have been forced to grudgingly accept the notion of harm reduction, although they protest bitterly over such interventions as safe injection sites. For them, harm reduction is less of an erosion of the drug war consensus than all that talk of drug legalization. As Caquet notes, perhaps a tad unfairly, harm reduction doesn't seek to confront drug prohibition head-on, but to mitigate its harms.

The man is a historian, not a policymaker, and his response to questions about what to do now is "I wouldn't start from here." Still, at the end of it all, he has a trio of observations: First, supply reduction ("suppression" is his word) does not work. Sure, you can successfully wipe out poppies in Thailand or Turkey, but they just pop up somewhere else, like the Golden Triangle or Afghanistan. That's the infamous balloon effect. Second, "criminalization of the drug user has been a huge historical blunder." It has no impact on drug use levels, is cruel and inhumane, and it didn't have to be that way. A century ago, countries could have agreed to regulate the drug trade; instead, they tried to eradicate it in an ever-escalating, never-ending crusade. Third, illicit drugs as a group should be seen "as a historical category, not a scientific one." Different substances demand different approaches.

Opium's Orphans is a fascinating, provocative, and nuanced account of the mess we've gotten ourselves into. Now, we continue the work of trying to get out of that mess.

Peru Announces Plan to Buy Up Entire Illegal Coca Crop, NH Senate Kills Legal Pot Bills Again, More... (4/29/22)

The White House announces more money for drug law enforcement, GOP senators file a bill to reduce but not eliminate the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more.

British Virgin Islands Premier Andrew Fahie -- busted on drug charges in Florida (bvi.gov.vg)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Senate Again Rejects Marijuana Legalization Bills. The Senate on Thursday rejected two different marijuana legalization bills. House Bill 1598 would have created a state-run monopoly for retail marijuana sales, while House Bill 629 would have legalized personal possession and home cultivation of the plant. In recent years, the House has repeatedly passed marijuana legalization bills, only to see them die in the Senate. On reason is paternalistic politicians like Sen. Bob Guida (R-Warren), who said he was "proud" of defeating legalization. "It may be what people want, but it's not what we as a Senate should enable them to do because it will cause harm," he said.

Law Enforcement

White House Announces $275 Million for Law Enforcement in HIDTAs. The White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) announced Thursday that it has allocated $275 million for law enforcement in designate High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs) to tackle black market opioid trafficking. ONDCP said the funds would go to 33 regional HIDTAs to "reduce violence associated with drug trafficking, improve interdiction efforts through enhanced data sharing and targeting, and dismantle illicit finance operations." Some of the money will also support public health and safety partnerships, like the Overdose Response Strategy, which works with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce overdose. But the bulks of the money is going to prohibitionist law enforcement.

Sentencing

GOP Senators File Bill to Reduce but Not Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, Stiffen Some Penalties. US Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mike Lee (R-UT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Roger Wicker (R-MS) to introduce the SMART Cocaine Sentencing Act, which would reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenders tried in federal courts. The bill would reduce the current crack-to-powder cocaine sentencing disparity from 18:1 to 2.5:1. It would reduce the volume required to trigger five-year mandatory minimum sentences for powder cocaine from 500 grams to 400 grams, and from 5 kilograms to 4 kilograms for 10-year mandatory minimum sentences. For crack cocaine, the volume triggering a five-year mandatory sentence would be increased from 28 grams to 160 grams; the volume for the 10-year mandatory sentence would be lifted from 280 grams to 1,600 grams.

International

British Virgin Islands Leader Busted in Florida Drug Sting Operation. The elected head of government of the British Virgin Island, Premier Andrew Fahie, was arrested in a drug sting operation in Florida Thursday. Fahie went down after an undercover informant posing as a member of the Sinaloa Cartel sought his help in moving cocaine through the territory and on to the United States and Fahie agreed to help in return for $500,000 paid up front and accepted $20,000 in cash as good faith money. The Caribbean island nation's port director and her son were also charged. Fahie and the other two all face charges of conspiracy to import at least five kilograms of a cocaine mixture and conspiracy to launder money.

Mexico Sends 200 More Soldiers to Tijuana to Fight Cartel Violence. Mexico has deployed an additional 200 National Guard troops to join the 3,500 already deployed in the border city of Tijuana, which has been ravaged by prohibition-related violence in recent weeks. "The conflict over control of production, distribution and sales of drugs led by organized delinquents within the state of Baja California has generated a large number of homicides as a result of these activities,"said General Francisco Javier Hernández Almanza, the head of the Mexico's National Guard in Baja California. The soldiers will man vehicle checkpoints across the city. But the entry of Mexican soldiers into areas of cartel violence has often led to more -- not less -- violence.

Peru Announces Plans to Buy Up Entire Illicit Coca Crop. The government has announced a plan to buy up the nation's entire supply of illegal coca leaf as part of its battle against drug trafficking. The Andean nation is one of the world's three major cocaine producers, along with Bolivia and Colombia. The country has a legal coca market and produced an estimated 160,000 tons of coca leaf last year, but 95 percent of that was grown illegally and was destined for illegal markets, where it was converted into about 400 tons of cocaine. The country's coca monopoly, ENACO, has 95,000 registered licit coca growers, but there are an estimated 400,000 illicit coca growers that the government wants to bring into the fold. "It is imperative, for at least a year, to buy coca leaf from existing registered producers and from those that will make up the newly created register," Cabinet Chief Anibal Torres said on Wednesday when presenting the initiative. The plan would also end the military occupation of the VRAEM (Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers), the country's main coca production area, which has had a military presence since 2006.

ND Legal Pot Initiative Can Start Signature-Gathering, Honduras Ex-Prez Extradited on Drug Charges, More... (4/22/22)

Kentucky's governor announces plans for executive actions to make medical marijuana available in the state,  a pair of US senators go after a methamphetamine precursor chemical, and more.

Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez is now in custody in the US on drug trafficking conspiracy charges. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Can Begin Signature-Gathering. Secretary of State Al Jager (R) announced Thursday that a marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by New Approach North Dakota has been approved for signature-gathering. The measure would legalize marijuana for people 21 and over and direct the legislature to establish rules and create a legal marijuana program by October 2023. The campaign now needs to gather 15,582 valid voter signatures by July 11 to qualify for the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Comes Up Short. Kind Idaho, the group behind an effort to get a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot, says it is not going to make it. "We aren't going to meet numbers," the campaign's treasurer said. The campaign needs 70,000 valid voter signatures to make the ballot but has only come up with a tenth of them, and the deadline is one week from today. "We ran into some issues along the way with basically starting up a grassroots organization without any sort of financial backing or assistance," he said.

Kentucky Governor Announces Plan to Allow Medical Marijuana. In the wake of the legislature's failure to pass a marijuana bill (again), Gov. Andy Beshear (D) announced Thursday a process that could lead to executive actions to allow medical marijuana in the state. "Most of these steps are about hearing from you, the public, so that your voice is heard by the executive branch — even if it's ignored by the legislative branch," Beshear said. Without naming names, Beshear went after Republican senators who blocked the bill, saying that "it's time that a couple of individuals that are out of touch with the vast majority of Kentuckians on this issue stop obstructing it and we're able to move forward."

Methamphetamine

Senate Drug Caucus Chairs Call on International Panel to Push for Scheduling of Methamphetamine Precursor Chemical. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chairman and Co-Chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, in a letter Thursday urged the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) to recommend the scheduling of methylamine—a precursor to methamphetamine. On the INCB’s recommendation, the most recent session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) voted unanimously to control three fentanyl precursor chemicals, but did not act on methylamine. Whitehouse and Grassley encourage the INCB to back the scheduling of methylamine, which would help to save lives across the globe, they said. "In 2020, 24,576 Americans died from an overdose involving psychostimulants, a class of drugs that includes methamphetamine," Whitehouse and Grassley wrote. "As the United States Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control has expressed to INCB in the past, international action is necessary to stop methylamine sales that enable criminal groups to produce methamphetamine. Recommending that CND schedule methylamine under the 1988 UN Convention will help save lives across the globe, including in the United States."

International

Mexican President Confirms Closure of Elite Anti-Drug Unit That Worked with DEA. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Thursday that an elite anti-drug unit that worked on drug investigations with the DEA was shut down last year, confirming a Reuters report from Tuesday. Lopez Obrador said the unit was shut down "over a year ago" and charged the unit had been infiltrated by criminals. "That group, which was supposedly a high-level strategic group, was infiltrated (by criminals),"he said. The Sensitive Investigative Units (SIU) police were considered among the country's law enforcement elite and had worked on major investigations, such as the capture of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, but one of its former leaders, Ivan Reyes Arzate, has pleaded guilty in US federal court to taking bribes from a drug gang. The unit was seen as vital by US drug agents, who needed Mexican police to help with investigations there.

Honduras Ex-President Extradited to US to Face Drug Charges. Former President Juan Orlando Hernandez was extradited from Honduras Thursday to face drug charges in the US. He is accused of taking massive bribes from Mexican drug traffickers to abet a cocaine-importing conspiracy and related gun trafficking offenses. Hernandez was president from 2014 to January 2022 and was a Washington ally despite rumors of corruption surrounding him for years. "Hernandez abused his position as president of Honduras from 2014 through 2022 to operate the country as a narco-state,"said US Attorney General Merrick Garland. "Hernandez worked closely with other public officials to protect cocaine shipments bound for the United States." Hernandez's brother Tony, a former Honduran congressman, has already been sentenced to life in prison in the US after being convicted earlier on drug trafficking charges. 

DC Council Rejects Bill to Effectively Allow Legal Pot Sales, Cops Being Killed in Mexico's Zacatecas, More... (4/6/22)

A Georgia bill that would actually get cannabis oil into the hands of patients goes down, the DC city council narrowly rejects a bill that would effectively legalize adult pot sales, and more.

The Sentencing Project is warning of new mandatory minimums in a bill now before the Senate. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

DC City Council Rejects Bill to Effectively Legalize Pot Sales for Adults, Crack Down on "Gifting." The District of Columbia city council narrowly voted down a bill that would have allowed people 21 and over to "self-certify" themselves as medical marijuana patients but would have also cracked down on unlicensed operators who have been "gifting" marijuana to people who buy token products and services. The District legalized marijuana possession in a 2014 initiative, but has been blocked from implementing legal sales by Congress. The bill that went down in defeat Monday actually had majority support but needed nine of the council's 13 votes to pass. It got eight.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Bill to Allow Patients Access to Medical Marijuana Falls One Vote Short. State legislators approved a medical marijuana bill in 2015, but that bill left patients in the lurch because it did not provide any means of providing cannabis oil. A bill that would have finally allowed businesses to grow and sell cannabis oil, House Bill 738, passed the House earlier this year, but the Senate tabled the bill on a 28-27 vote in March, and now, the legislative session has ended without the Senate taking any further action.

Sentencing

Sentencing Project Urges Senate to Oppose Hawley Bill to Impose New Mandatory Minimums. In a letter submitted to the Senate, The Sentencing Project’s Amy Fettig urged the U.S. Senate to oppose the request for unanimous consent on S. 3951 – the PROTECT Act of 2022 – and vote no on the bill. The bill, from Trumpist rightist Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), seeks to build on recent GOP talking points around child pornography by creating new mandatory minimum sentences for such offenses, but as the Sentencing Project noted, "The US Supreme Court, Congress and the US Sentencing Commission have acted in a bipartisan way for almost 20 years to address federal mandatory minimum sentencing policies in order to create more fairness, proportionality and equity in sentencing. Unfortunately, this bill would create new mandatory minimum sentencing policies, including an attempt to establish mandatory sentencing guidelines – previously ruled unconstitutional – for certain offenses. This legislation would have far-reaching implications for eroding fairness and justice, including the potential to usher in a new era of mandatory minimums." The Senate was set to vote on a unanimous consent request for the bill on Wednesday.

International

Mexico's Zacatecas State Sees 16 Cops Killed So Far This Year. An ongoing turf war between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel in the west-central state of Zacatecas has seen at least 16 police officers killed in the first quarter of 2022, according to a register of killings of police. The most recent killing was March 26 in Fresnillo, when an off-duty officer was killed when armed civilians at a roadblock opened fire on his vehicle, then lit it on fire. For the last week, police across the state have gone on strike, demanding better pay and healthcare, the reinstatement of fired officers, and deploring the security situation in the state. The state is currently short about 3,000 police officers. Zacatecas is now the state with the highest number of police killingsso far in 2022 and also currently has the highest homicide rate of any state in the country. 

Amendments Fly as House Legal Pot Vote Looms, Singapore Hangs Man for Drug Trafficking, More... (3/30/22)

A Maryland marijuana legalization bill advances, New Mexico pot shops will open starting Friday, a Georgia therapeutic psychedelic study bill advances, and more.

The House is set to vote on the MORE Act this week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Lawmakers File Various Amendments to House Marijuana Legalization Bill. With a House floor vote on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617) set for this week, proposed amendments are coming fast and furious. They will be taken up by the House Rules Committee Wednesday. Most of the proposed amendments seek to impose restrictions on the bill, such as requiring completion of various certain studies before legalization, limiting expungement provisions, or maintaining certain penalties. One, though, would provide relief for people denied security clearances because of past marijuana convictions.

Maryland Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances. The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday approved a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 833, that would only take effect if voters approved a related ballot question in November. A slightly different version of the bill passed the House last month, so a conference committee will have to hash out the differences. The panel did not act on House Bill 1, which would establish the November referendum. The legislature faces a deadline at the end of the week. Lawmakers will only have the chance to override a possible veto by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) if they get bills to his desk this week.

New Mexico Recreational Pot Shops Can Open Their Doors on Friday. The state legislature legalized marijuana last year, and beginning on Friday, the first recreational marijuana sales in the state can begin. New Mexicans could legally possess and use marijuana since last June, but had no place to legally purchase recreational marijuana—until now. State officials have issued more than 200 licenses for retail pot shops. When they open later this week, adults will be able to purchase two ounces of weed at a time.

Opiates and Opioids

California Fentanyl Crisis Prompts Flurry of Bills. Lawmakers are responding to a surge in fentanyl-related overdoses with a number of bills, some punitive, but others embracing harm reduction interventions. Assembly Member Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Irvine) has filed Assembly Bill 2246, which would increase penalties for possession and distribution, including a sentence of 20 years to life for someone who sold fentanyl that resulted in a fatal overdose. Assembly Member James Ramos (D-Highland) has field Assembly Bill 1628, which would require companies such as Snapchat to implement policies that prohibit the sale of fentanyl and other controlled substances on their platforms. Senate Bill 864 would require hospitals to test drug screening urine samples for fentanyl, Senate Bill 1350 would require warnings to people convicted of drug distribution offenses that they could be charged with manslaughter of murder in the event of a fatal overdose, while Assembly Bill 1673 would set up a California Fentanyl Task Force to produce statewide statistics and ramp up public awareness. On the harm reduction side, Sen. Scott Weiner's (D-San Francisco) Senate Bill 57 would authorize pilot safe injection site program in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles. That bill has passed the Senate and is now before the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Psychedelics

Georgia Therapeutic Psychedelic Study Bill Advances. The House Appropriations Public Safety Subcommittee voted Tuesday to approve House Resolution 896, which would create a House study committee to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics such as psilocybin and make recommendations for legislation. The bill is couched as an effort to address the need for effective treatments for depression and PTSD for military veterans. It now heads to the House Defense and Veteran Affairs Committee.

International

Colombia Coca Zone Battle Sees 11 FARC Dissidents Killed. The Colombia Army said Tuesday its soldiers had killed at least 11 FARC dissidents in open combat n Puerto Leguizamo municipality in Putumayo province near the borders with Ecuador and Peru. The area has extensive coca plantings and cocaine-producing laboratories and is contested by various armed actors. The FARC dissidents are former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who rejected the FARC's demobilization under a 2016 peace deal with the government.

Mexico Attack Leaves at Least 20 Dead in Michoacan. Presumed cartel gunmen attacked spectators at a cockfighting pit in the town of Las Tinajas Sunday, leaving at least 20 people dead and several more wounded. "It was a massacre of one group by another," President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told a news conference, expressing his regret at the deaths. The state of Michoacan and neighboring Guanajuato have been plagued by cartel violence for years, with the most recent mass killing leaving 17 people dead only weeks ago. Earlier this month, the mayor of Aguilla, Michoacan, was gunned down, and days later, journalist Armando Linares was killed in Zitacuaro. Most of the violence is between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and local gangs, but some of it is between different factions of that same cartel.

Singapore Hangs Man for Drug Trafficking. Closing its ears to pleas for leniency, including from the UN Human Rights Office, Singapore on Wednesday executed Abdul Kahar Othman, 68, for drug trafficking. The hanging marked the first execution in the country since it halted them due to the coronavirus pandemic. The last execution took place in November 2019. Kahar, from a poor family, had struggled with addiction all his life and spent much of his adult life behind bars. He was convicted of drug trafficking in 2013. Another execution may be looming. A Malaysian man with mental disabilities, Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, has been on death row since 2010 for trying to smuggle 1.5 ounces of heroin into the city-state. He lost his final appeal on Tuesday. 

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