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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.)

Chronicle AM: Good NJ & TX MJ Polls, Mexican Cartels Kill Political Candidates, More... (4/19/18)

Democratic presidential contenders hop on the legalization bandwagon, New Jersey and Texas polls have good news for marijuana legalizers, Mexico's election campaign season is getting very bloody, and more.

Marijuana Policy

House GOP Again Blocks Action on Marijuana Policy. The House Rules Committee on Monday blocked an amendment that would have allowed marijuana businesses to deduct business expenses from their federal taxes -- like all other businesses do. The amendment from Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) was defeated on a party line vote. It was just business as usual for the committee and its chair, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), who has blocked any marijuana amendments from advancing since 2016.

Bernie Sanders Signs on to Marijuana Justice Act. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has signed on as a cosponsor of Sen. Cory Booker's (D-NJ) Marijuana Justice Act, Senate Bill 1689. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is also a cosponsor, meaning three leading 2020 Democratic presidential contenders are backing marijuana legalization.

New Jersey Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Monmouth University poll shows strong public support for freeing the weed, even as the legislature ponders the issue. The poll found 59% supported legalizing small amounts for personal use. That's up 11 points since 2014.

New Mexico Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Calls for Legalizing Pot. Democratic gubernatorial contender Jeff Apodaca is calling for an expansion of the state's medical marijuana program and the legalization of marijuana for adult use. Another Democratic contender, US Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, has also said she would support legalization -- if it included adequate measures to prevent youth use and workplace problems.

Texas Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Quinnipiac poll finds that more than six out of ten Texans are ready to free the weed. The poll had 61% in favor of allowing the possession of small amounts for personal use.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois House Approves Medical Marijuana for Students at School. The House voted Wednesday to approve House Bill 4870, which would allow parents to administer infused marijuana to their children in elementary and secondary schools. The bill passed by a margin of 99-1. It now goes to the Senate.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee voted 14-3 Thursday to approve House Bill 3521, the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act. The bill would allow seriously ill patients to use marijuana to treat their conditions with a recommendation from their doctors. The legislature's crossover deadline has already passed, but this vote, combined with approval by the Senate Medical Affairs Committee on March 29, builds momentum for full passage next year.

International

Mexican Election Campaign Sparks Wave of Political Assassinations. Drug trafficking organizations are getting the blame for a record number of killings of candidates running for political office in Mexico. At least 82 candidates and office holders have been killed since the electoral season began last September. As Newsweek reported: "Drug lords are hoping to install lawmakers they know and trust to ensure that their lucrative trade is allowed to continue."

Antigua and Barbuda Move Toward Marijuana Legalization. Just a month after decriminalizing marijuana, the tiny Caribbean island nation is drafting legislation to legalize recreational and medical marijuana sales. The bill could be brought before parliament within the next six months.

(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: ME Lawmakers Pass MJ Sales Bill, Amnesty Death Penalty Report, More... (4/12/18)

It's time to let the FDA know what you think about marijuana scheduling, Maine lawmakers pass a veto-proof pot sales bill, the Trump administration wants to drug test some food stamp recipients, Amnesty International reports on drug death penalty countries, and more.

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox calls for the legalization of opium poppy cultivation in Mexico. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

FDA Accepting Public Comment on Marijuana Classification for Next Two Weeks. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is accepting public comment from "interested parties" regarding the classification of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. (CSA). The CSA places marijuana in Schedule I, a category reserved for drugs with no accepted medical use and high abuse potential. The FDA is acting now because the World Health Organization is set to review its own classification of marijuana and is seeking input from member nations, of which the US is the most influential. Public comment is open until April 23.

Former GOP House Speaker Boehner Now Supports Marijuana Legalization. Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said Wednesday he has had a change of heart regarding marijuana and will help promote marijuana legalization nationwide. He also announced that he and former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld (R) are joining the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, a national marijuana company. "I decided to get involved because of the struggles of our country's veterans and the opioid epidemic, after learning how descheduling the drug can potentially help with both crises," said Boehner.

Maine Legislature Passes Marijuana Legalization Implementation Plan by Veto-Proof Margin. After Gov. Paul LePage (R) vetoed a first effort to implement regulated and taxed marijuana commerce, the legislature has now approved a new measure to do so, this time by a veto-proof margin. The House passed the bill on Tuesday and the Senate followed on Wednesday. The bill will limit home cultivation to three plants, impose a 10% sales tax, as well as a $335 per pound tax on producers. It will also mandate that localities proactively opt-in before sales will be allowed.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Business Evaluations Halted after Court Ruling. The Department of Finance and Administration said Wednesday that the Medical Marijuana Commission's review of dispensary evaluations has been put on hold. The stoppage is the result of a ruling last week from a state circuit court judge that the licensing process for cultivators violated the 2016 voter-approved initiative legalizing medical marijuana. We are under an injunction that voids the method of cultivation scoring. Therefore, dispensary application review is on hold as we review the situation," Scott Hardin with DFA told KATV in Little Rock.

Drug Testing

Trump Administration Ponders Plan to Impose Drug Testing for Some Food Stamp Recipients. The administration is pondering a plan that would let states require that certain food stamp recipients undergo drug testing. The nose-under-the-tent proposal would mainly target able-bodied adults without children who apply for certain specialized job categories. That would be about 5% of all food stamp recipients. The move has long been desired by conservatives who seek ways to curb the safety net program.

International

Amnesty International Report: Four Countries Executed Drug Offenders in 2017. At least four countries executed people for drug offenses last year, Amnesty International said in a new report. Those countries are China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore. "Despite strides towards abolishing this abhorrent punishment, there are still a few leaders who would resort to the death penalty as a 'quick-fix' rather than tackling problems at their roots with humane, effective and evidence-based policies," said Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty.

Former Mexican President Calls for Legalization of Opium Production. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox called Wednesday for the legalization of opium production in the country as a means of weakening drug cartels. "The plants themselves are not harmful, we make them harmful, (especially) the criminals who use them for evil purposes," Fox said at a pro-marijuana event in the capital. Fox said legalizing poppies would curtail cartel profits and boost public safety in the violence-wracked southern state of Guerrero, which has been hit hard by prohibition-related violence in recent years. Fox also implored candidates in the July presidential election to openly debate drug legalization before the vote.

Chronicle AM: Trump Looking at Drug Dealer Death Penalty, Vancouver Wants Drug Decrim, More... (3/12/18)

Sessions admits feds can't effectively enforce pot laws, Trump admin studies the death penalty for some drug dealers, Mexico murders hit a high, Vancouver wants drug decriminalization, and more.

Trump isn't just talking about the death penalty; his administration is working on it. (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Sessions Concedes Feds Lack Resources to Prosecute Small-Time Pot Busts. The attorney general admitted the obvious Saturday, saying that federal prosecutors will not take on small-time marijuana cases because federal law enforcement lacks the resources to take on "routine cases." In response to a question, Sessions said, "I am not going to tell Colorado or California or someone else that possession of marijuana is legal under United States law," but then added that federal prosecutors "haven’t been working small marijuana cases before, they are not going to be working them now."

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Medical Marijuana Initiative Has 200,000 Signatures, Still Wants More. It's looking increasingly likely that Shoe Me state residents will have a chance to vote to legalize medical marijuana in November. New Approach Missouri, the group behind a medical marijuana initiative, announced Sunday it had collected more than 200,000 raw signatures. It only needs 160,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot, but because some raw signatures may be disqualified, the group said its goal is 300,000 raw signatures.

Utah Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Bills, But Initiative Campaign Will Continue. Faced with an ongoing initiative campaign, legislators in Salt Lake passed four medical marijuana bills this session, but none of them actually sets up a workable, dispensary-based program, and the Utah Patients Coalition, the folks behind the initiative campaign say they are tired of lawmakers beating around the bush and will continue to gather signatures so the issue will appear on the November ballot. Of the bills passed, one would allow terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana, one would ease medical marijuana research, one seeks a federal waiver for doctors to recommend CBD, and one modifies a task force charged with reviewing existing medical marijuana research.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Dies. The legislature adjourned Saturday without taking final action on a medical marijuana expansion bill, just days after State Treasurer John Perdue warned that because of federal pot prohibition the state could not support the program with its financial services. House Bill 4345 would have increased the number of growers, processors, and dispensaries that can operate in the state.

Drug Policy

Trump Administration Studying Death Penalty for Drug Dealers. It's not just off-the-cuff rhetoric: The administration is studying a new policy that could allow federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for some drug dealers, particularly those dealing in fentanyl and its analogs. The Department of Justice and the Domestic Policy Council are studying potential changes, and a final announcement could come within weeks.

New Report Finds War on Drugs a Key Factor in Colorado’s Growing Prison Population — and Its Prison Budget, Which Is Nearing $1 Billion for First Time in History. The war on drugs is a key factor in Colorado's growing prison population and, in turn, its growing budget, according to a report released Monday by the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition (CCJRC). It also appears to be having a disproportionate impact on women. The analysis of state court and prison data found there were more than twice as many drug felony case filings in Colorado in 2017 (15,323) compared to 2012 (7,424), and the vast majority of drug felony filings (75%) are for simple possession. As a result, there are more people being sentenced to prison for drug possession, especially women. The report, which also includes a breakdown for each of Colorado's 22 judicial districts, shows that five districts saw drug felony filings increase by 165% or more in 2017 compared to 2012.

International

European Union Calls on Member States to Find Alternatives to Punishing Drug Users. The EU's Justice and Home Affairs Council last week adopted recommendations on alternatives to coercive sanctions for drug users. These recommendations were approved within the frame of the EU Action Plan on Drugs 2017-2020 which requests member states to provide alternatives to coercive sanctions for drug using offenders "where appropriate, and in accordance with their legal frameworks."

Dutch Will Decide on Marijuana Cultivation Pilot Programs By Summer. Justice Minister Ferninand Grapperhaus told parliament last Friday that ministers will publish their proposals for the planned experiment with legal marijuana cultivation this summer. The move is an effort to address the country's "back door problem," where possession and legal sales are allowed, but there is no legal provision for supply.

Vancouver Calls for Canada to Decriminalize Drugs. The city is officially calling on the Liberal federal government to immediately decriminalize the personal possession of all drugs. "What we've learned from countries, for example like Portugal, is that when you decriminalize then people are feeling like they're actually safe enough to ask for treatment," said managing director of social policy, Mary Clare Zak. "People who are dying are more likely to be indoors and struggle with accessing help or assistance because of their illicit drug use." The move comes as the city saw 33 overdose deaths in January, the highest number since last May.

Jamaica's First Marijuana Retailer is Now Open for Business. Kaya Farms in St. Ann Parish opened its doors last Saturday. It's a wellness-focused, tourist-friendly café, lounge, juice bar, and "herb house" on the island nation's north coast. Bob Marley must be smiling.

Mexico Saw More Than 29,000 Murders Last Year. The Interior Ministry has reported that there were 29,168 murders in the country last year, more than at the previous peak of prohibition-related violence in 2011 and 2012. While fighting among cartels and between various cartels and law enforcement and the military accounts for the vast majority of these killings, it's not the only cause. Still, the homicide rate is now the highest in years.

Chronicle AM: Non-Binding Legalization Votes, Iran Expecting Fewer Drug Executions, More... (3/1/18)

A non-binding referendum on marijuana legalization has been approved by the Illinois Senate, another such referendum bill has just been filed in Rhode Island, the Iranian justice minister said drug executions will drop dramatically, the president nominates members to the Sentencing Commission, and more.

Iran's new drug policies should result in a "dramatic" decrease in drug executions like this.
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Report Fails to Win Task Force Approval for Release. A final report on issues surrounding marijuana legalization failed to win approval from a legislative and state official task force, but one Democratic legislator said it will be made available to the General Assembly anyway. Only 12 of the 25 task force members voted to release the report; all state cabinet representatives either were absent or abstained. Gov. John Carney (D) has said he opposes legalization.

Illinois Senate Approves Non-Binding Legalization Referendum. The Senate voted 37-13 Thursday to put a non-binding marijuana legalization referendum on the November ballot. The measure, Senate Bill 2275, now heads to the House. The question voters would be asked is: "Shall the State of Illinois legalize the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products for recreational use by adults 21 and older subject to state regulation, taxation and local ordinance?"

Rhode Island Bill to Put Non-Binding Legalization Referendum Before Voters Filed. Rep. Scott Slater (D-District 10) filed a bill Wednesday that would put the question of legalizing marijuana before the voters in a non-binding referendum. House Bill 7883 would ask voters: "Do you support the legalization of possession and use of marijuana by persons who are at least 21 years of age, subject to regulation and taxation that is similar to the regulation and taxation of tobacco and alcohol?"

Baton Rouge Moves Toward Decriminalization. The East Baton Rouge Metro Council voted Wednesday night approved a measure that would direct police to only issue summonses to people caught with less than 14 grams of weed, with the only punishment being a $40 fine, with the fine going up $20 for each subsequent offense. Under current law, those folks are looking at six months in jail. If signed by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, the new law goes into effect in 30 days.

Sentencing

Trump Nominates Sentencing Commission Members. On Thursday, President Trump announced he intended to nominate five people to the US Sentencing Commission, which sets guidelines for federal sentencing. He named Judge William Pryor of Arkansas, who already sits on the commission, to be Acting Chairman. Of the four other nominees, three are sitting federal judges and one is a Georgetown University law professor who has raised eyebrows for his support of mandatory minimums.

Rhode Island Bill Would Impose Life Sentences for Drug Overdose Deaths House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has filed House Bill 7715, which could create life sentences for people convicted of providing drugs to persons who suffered a fatal overdose. Under current state law, anyone convicted of providing drugs to a minor who overdoses an dies can get a life sentence; this bill would expand that to include life sentences no matter the age of the victim. "Anyone who is preying on individuals with an addiction, regardless of age, should be held responsible. This is not a crime restricted to the sale of drugs to a minor," Mattiello said.>

Washington State County Will Stop Prosecuting Small-Time Drug Possessors. Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe has announced that his office will no longer prosecute people caught with less than two grams of any illicit drug. He said the prosecutions are time-consuming, he doesn't have enough prosecutors to keep up, and the prosecutions do little to stop drug use. Snohomish County lies between Seattle and the Canadian border.

International

Iran Justice Minister Expects Fewer Executions Under Revised Drug Law. Justice Minister Ali Reza Avai told the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday that he expects to see drug executions shrink after reforms in the Islamic Republic's criminal code aiming to be more efficient and safeguard the rights of the accused were adopted. "In this context the counter-narcotics law was amended. As a result, executions related to drug crimes will decrease remarkably," he predicted. Iran has been one of the world's leading drug executioners.

Mexican Police Accused of Death Squad Tactics Against Drug Suspects. Prosecutors in the state of Veracruz have charged 19 police officers, including some commanders of a special anti-drug unit, of kidnapping, torturing, and murdering at least 15 people in the area. Police in marked cars would pick up suspects, but not record the arrests, instead turning them over to specialized interrogation and torture squads working at the policy academy. They were later killed and their bodies disposed of. The charges are an important step in addressing festering impunity for official crimes in the drug war. "This is the first time they have charged people in significant numbers and of significant rank and demonstrated that there was an organized, structured governmental apparatus that had an agreed-on, systemic method to carry out a policy of disappearing people," said Juan Carlos Gutiérrez, a lawyer who specializes in human rights cases. The groundbreaking thing is that prosecutors built a case by demonstrating there was a whole governmental structure that was designed to disappear people," he told the Guardian.

Chronicle AM: Joint-Smoking IL US House Candidate, DEA Link to Mexico Murders, More... (2/28/18)

An Illinois Democratic congressional candidate goes bold on weed, New Jersey legalization efforts face an uphill battle in the Senate, congressional Democrats call for investigations into DEA-linked drug war deaths in Mexico, and more.

Illinois Democratic congressional contender Benjamin Thomas Wolf lights up in new ad. (wolfforcongress.com)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Democratic Congressional Candidate Smokes Joint in Ad. Former FBI national security official and current Logan Park restaurateur Benjamin Thomas Wolfe is running for the Democratic nomination for Illinois' 5th congressional district -- and he's putting marijuana legalization front and center. A photograph Wolf released Monday features him sitting in front of an American flag painting. Above him, smoke rises from the joint he presumably just puffed on. "As a cannabis user, I think it's important we get out front and talk about it," Wolf said. "We realize that cannabis can bring billions of dollars to the state, it's medicine for millions of people around the country, it changes criminal justice reform and personally I think it's a wonderful recreational substance as well."

New Hampshire Poll Finds Strong Support for Legalization -- Without Sales. A new Granite State poll has across the board support for a bill that would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not sale or taxation of it. The poll had support at 56% overall, with 61% of Democrats, 56% of independents, and 49% of Republicans behind it.

New Jersey Senate Survey Suggests Hard Road Ahead for Legalization. A survey of all 40 state Senate members by NJ Cannabis Insider finds there is some work to be done before the body is prepared to pass a legalization bill. The survey found only five senators said they would vote yes, 20 would vote no, and 15 were either undecided or did not reply. A legalization bill, Senate Bill 830, awaits a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee narrowly approved a medical marijuana bill Tuesday. The committee voted 4-3 in favor of House Bill 1749, with the key vote provided by House Speaker Beth Harwell.

Harm Reduction

New York Advocates Call on Mayor de Blasio to Release Study on Safe Injection Sites. Advocates led by the Drug Policy Alliance, Housing Works, and Camelot gathered at city hall Tuesday to demand that Mayor Bill de Blasio release a $100,000 study on the feasibility of safe injection sites. De Blasio said last month he would release the results "relatively soon." On Tuesday, the Health Department again said "soon." The city council authorized safe injection sites two years ago.

Law Enforcement

Congressional Democrats Want Investigation into Mexico Murders Linked to DEA Activities. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have sent a letter to the Justice and State departments asking that their inspectors general investigate DEA-led operations in Mexico that triggered violent retaliation from drug cartels, leading to the death or disappearance of dozens or even hundreds of people. The Democrats cited a 2010 cartel attack in Monterrey and a 2011 massacre by Zetas in the state of Coahuila. In both cases, the killings were linked to DEA surveillance activities, and in both cases, the DEA downplayed its involvement and didn't help investigate the killings.

(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: CA MJ Tax Bonanza, Mexico Legal MJ for Tourists, Corruption and Violence in Central American Drug Trade, More... (1/26/18)

California looks set to make big bucks from legalizing weed, Mexico's tourism minister suggests legalizing it at some of the country's biggest tourist beach resorts, the new Honduran national police chief has some explaining to do, and more.

Legal green will make the Golden State a bit more golden. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

California Will Reap $643 Million in Pot Taxes Next Year, Governor Estimates. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) estimated Wednesday that the state will take in $643 million in marijuana taxes in Fiscal Year 2018-2019, more than 10 times the cost of issuing licenses and enforcing new rules. The estimate comes in the governor's budget proposal for the next fiscal year. This year, with only five months remaining in the fiscal year and with sales just getting underway, the budget estimates $175 million in pot taxes. The high tax proceeds estimates are leading to calls from some consumers and the California Growers Association to lower the taxes.

Virginia House Panel Kills Decriminalization Bill. A subcommittee of the House Committee on Courts and Justice voted 7-1 Wednesday to kill a decriminalization bill, House Bill 1063. A bill that would lessen penalties for a first marijuana offense remains alive.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho CBD Bill Filed. Conservative Republican state Rep. Dorothy Moon has filed a bill that would allow the CBD cannabis oil for medicinal purposes. House Bill 410 would limit cannabis oils to less than 0.3% THC. It is now before the House Health and Welfare Committee.

International

Mexico Tourism Minister Calls for Legal Marijuana at Major Beach Resorts. Tourism Minister Enrique de la Madrid said Thursday that Mexico should legalize marijuana at two of the country's major beach resorts, Cancun and Los Cabos, in a bid to reduce criminal violence. "It's absurd we're not taking this step as a country," he told reporters in Mexico City. "Even if there's work to be done in the whole of the country, I'd like to see that it might be done in Baja California and Quintana Roo," the states where Los Cabos and Cancun, respectively, are located.

Mexican Military on Patrol in Reynosa in Wake of Cartel Violence. The military is out in force, on the ground and in the air, in the Mexican border city of Reynosa after days of gun battles between rival factions of the Gulf Cartel left at least a dozen people dead. The military patrols will continue indefinitely, the governor of Tamaulipas state said.

Honduras National Police Chief Reportedly Helped Cartel Rescue Cocaine Load. The new chief of National Police, Jose David Aguilar Moran, promised to continue reforming an agency stained by corruption and complicity with drug cartels, but the Associated Press reports that he helped a cartel leader successfully retrieve and deliver nearly a ton of cocaine after lower-ranking police stopped the truck it which it was being transported. That report is based on confidential Honduran government security reports obtained by the AP.

Georgian Protesters Demand Drug Law Reforms. Hundreds of people gathered outside the parliament building in Tbilisi Thursday to reiterate their demand that the country liberalize its drug laws. The rally was sparked by the Monday sentencing of actor Giorgi Giorganashvili to eight years in prison on drug charges. The protestors representing 20 civil society groups said the sentence "once again legitimized the inhumane and repressive drug policy in Georgia." The action comes as the parliament is considering a bill that would decriminalize the use and possession of small amounts of drugs.

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