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

Democratic presidential contenders hop on the pot 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 10 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.

Chronicle AM: Trump Touts "Very Harsh" Drug Policies, CA Marijuana "Sanctuary State" Bill, More... (1/8/17)

A California lawmaker revives his marijuana sanctuary state bill, President Trump lauds "very harsh" drug policies, Mexico's prohibition-related violence continues, and more.

President Trump seems to have a soft spot for "very harsh" drug policies and those who implement them. (Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

San Francisco Begins Legal Adult Marijuana Sales. The city by the bay joined the legal recreational marijuana sales era last Saturday, as the Apothecarium on Market Street opened its doors to a line around the block. Sales in the state began on January 1 in locations where permits and licenses had been issued, but San Francisco wasn't quite ready on day one. Now it is.

California Bill Would Make State a Marijuana Sanctuary State. In the wake of US Attorney Jeff Sessions' announcement last week that he was rescinding Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors to leave state law-abiding pot businesses alone, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) is renewing efforts to pass a bill he filed last year, Assembly Bill 1578. Modeled on the state's law making it a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, the measure would prevent state and local law enforcement agencies from helping the DEA target the state's marijuana industry without a federal court order. The bill passed the Assembly last year before being stalled in the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Okays First Dispensary. State regulators announced last Thursday that they had approved the state's first dispensary to begin selling medical marijuana once it becomes available from a licensed grow. The Keystone Canna Remedies dispensary in Bethlehem was the first out of the gate. The dispensary will open later this month for educational workshops and registration assistance, but doesn't expect to have product on hand until mid-February. Regulators said they expected more dispensaries to open in coming weeks.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Ohio Lawmaker Wants to Automatically Jail Parolees, Probationers Who Fail Drug Tests for Illicit Opioids. State Rep. Niraj Antani (R-Miami Valley) has proposed a bill that would automatically jail probationers or parolees who test positive for heroin, fentanyl, or carfentanil. The bill would also allow an option for treatment, but Antani said there are not enough treatment facilities and "until that time, jail is simply the safest place for someone to detox and to be safely placed if they are using heroin and fentanyl." The bill is not yet available on the legislative website, but some of Antani's other bills are, including one that says police body camera footage is not a public record and another that would toughen the requirements for getting initiatives on the ballot and for passing them.

Collateral Consequences

Indiana Bill Would End Food Stamp Ban for Drug Felons. State Sen. Mike Bohacek (R-Michiana Shores) has filed Senate Bill 11, which would lift a ban on residents with drug felony convictions from receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). The ban derives from a federal law, but that law allows states to exempt themselves from using it, and a majority of states have done so. Under Bohacek's bill, drug felons who had completed probation or parole would be eligible.

Drug Policy

Trump Says Countries That Are "Very Harsh" on Drug Policy Do Better. Speaking at a Camp David press conference last Saturday, President Trump appeared to give a big thumbs up to drug war criminals such as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte by saying countries that are "very harsh" on drug policy have fewer difficulties curbing the problem. His remarks came as he addressed the opioid crisis in the US. "We are going to do everything we can," said Trump. "It's a very difficult situation, difficult for many countries. Not so difficult for some, believe it or not, they take it very seriously, they're very harsh, those are the ones that have much less difficulty. But we are going to be working on that very, very hard this year, and I think we're going to make a big dent into the drug problem."

Harm Reduction

Maine's Tea Party Governor Blocks Easy Access to Overdose Reversal Drug. Gov. Paul LePage (R) continues to block new rules that would allow state residents to obtain the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) without a prescription. The state Board of Pharmacy unanimously approved letting pharmacists dispense the lifesaving drug without a prescription in August, but ever since, the plan has been stalled, with the rules still at the governor's office pending review. LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz confirmed as much last Friday, but declined to offer any timeline or explanation regarding the delay. LePage vetoed a naloxone bill in 2016, only to be overridden by the legislature.

International

More Than 30 Killed in Mexico Drug Clashes. At least 32 people were killed in less than 24 hours late last week in the northern state of Chihuahua as rival drug gangs battled each other. The killings appear related to a dispute between La Linea, enforcers for the Juarez Cartel, and La Gente Neva, enforcers for the Sinaloa Cartel. At least seven were reported killing in Chihuahua City, with most of the others being killed in Ciudad Juarez. Among the dead were at least five women and children.

From Bloody Drug War to Legal Pot: Ten Global Drug Policy Highlights (and Lowlights) of 2017 [FEATURE]

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has unleashed a drug war that has killed thousands. (Wikimedia)
1. In the Philippines, Duterte's Bloody Drug War Rages On

Undeterred by international criticism, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte continued his murderous war on small-time drug users and sellers throughout 2017, with Human Rights Watch estimating that some 12,000 people -- almost all poor -- have been killed since Duterte unleashed the killers in June 2016. Poor neighborhoods have also been subjected to warrantless searches and door-to-door drug testing, and thousands more people have been imprisoned in insalubrious conditions.

2. Indonesia Starts Going Down Duterte's Path

Indonesian President Joko Widodo must have liked what he was seeing one archipelago over because in July, he started sounding like his Filipino counterpart. To fight the country's "narcotic emergency," he said, police should "gun down" foreigners suspected of drug trafficking if they "resist arrest." At year's end, the National Narcotics agency proudly reported it had killed 79 people in drug raids during 2017, and arrested more than half a million, of whom 1,523 were declared rehabilitated after drug treatment. In 2016, Widodo had ordered that a 100,000 people receive drug treatment, but there don't seem to be any resources for that.

3. Norway Moves to Decriminalize All Drug Use

In December, the Norwegian parliament sent a strong signal that it wants to decriminalize drug use and possession. It voted to pursue such a path, directing the government to begin making changes in the laws to reflect that vote. Legislation that would actually enact the changes has yet to be drafted, but Norway is on the way.

4. Uruguay Legal Marijuana Sales Begin

It took more than three years after the country legalized marijuana before it happened, but it happened this year: Pharmacies began selling marijuana direct to customers in July, making Uruguay the first country in the world to permit the legal production and sale of marijuana.

5. Nevada Becomes 5th US State to Allow Legal Marijuana Sales, More Coming Online Soon

Uruguay may be the first country to legalize marijuana, but now, eight US states and the District of Columbia have done it, and the first four -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- all allow recreational marijuana sales. Four states legalized it in November 2016, but only Nevada got legal sales up and running in 2017. But watch out -- a tidal wave is coming: Legal sales begin in California, with its population of nearly 40 million, on January 1. Oh, and Maine and Massachusetts will begin legal sales sometime in 2018, too.

6. Mexico Drug War Mayhem at Record Levels

Eleven years after then-President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels and sent in the military, things are worse than ever. According to government crime statistics, 2017 was the bloodiest year yet with more than 27,000 murders as splintering drug trafficking organizations fight a multi-sided war among themselves and against the police and military (when the police and military aren't acting on behalf of cartel factions). The year brought other grim milestones as well: More than 200,000 dead, an estimated 30,000 missing, more than 850 clandestine graves uncovered. All to keep Americans well supplied with the drugs we love to hate -- or is it hate to love?

7. Iran Moves to Drastically Reduce Drug Executions

The Islamic Republic has long been one of the world's leading executioners of drug offenders, but that could be about to change. In August, the Iranian parliament approved an amendment that significantly raises the bar for mandatory executions for certain drug offenses. The amendment dramatically increases the quantities of drugs needed to trigger a sentence of death or life in prison and should result in hundreds of people being spared execution each year. But it's not a done deal yet: It still must be approved by the Guardian Council, a body of 12 Islamic jurists, to ensure it complies with the Iranian constitution and their interpretation of sharia law.

Breaking Bad: Kim Jung Un (Flickr)
8. US Heightens Afghan Drug War, First Round of Bombing Campaign Kills Dozens

In August, President Trump authorized new rules of engagement for American forces in Afghanistan, allowing them to target the Taliban directly with air strikes. Previously, air strikes had been allowed only in support of Afghan troop operations or to protect US or NATO troops under attack. In November, US military commanders made the first use of that authority by bombing ten Taliban-controlled opium production facilities in Helmand province, leaving a toll of at least 44 dead. The aim is to disrupt Taliban funding, but it looks like there's plenty more work to do: The Pentagon says the Taliban have another 400 to 500 heroin labs. And with bumper opium crops in 2017, they have plenty of work to do, too.

9. Colombia's Bumper Coca Harvests Prompt US Pressure to Resume Aerial Eradication

Colombia just came off a bumper year for coca and cocaine production, but that's largely an artifact of the peace settlement between the FARC and the government, which offered assistance to coca growers wishing to transition to other crops, thus encouraging farmers to grow coca so they could qualify for the program. But such nuances matter little to the Trump administration, which is pressuring the Colombian government to reinstate the aerial fumigation of coca crops with potentially carcinogenic herbicides.

10. In Sanctions-Busting Move, North Korea Ups Meth Production

The regime in Pyongyang has long been accused of resorting to drug trafficking to help finance its oft-sanctioned military activities, and it looks like it's up to it again. In August came reports that state-affiliated companies and universities were "ramping up" the production of methamphetamine as a means of obtaining desperately needed foreign currency. With more sanctions, expect more North Korean meth.

Chronicle AM: CA Licenses First Legal Marijuana Shops, US ODs at Record High, More... (12/15/17)

California starts rolling out recreational marijuana business licenses, Maryland approves more dispensaries, Michigan starts accepting dispensary applications, the Mexican Senate approves a bill letting the military keep playing a policing role, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Issues First Recreational Marijuana Business Licenses. The state's Bureau of Cannabis Control issued 20 retail marijuana business licenses Thursday, paving the way for consumers to buy legal weed at pot shops as early as January 1. On the list were medical and recreational adult use distributors, retailers, and "microbusinesses." Among first day retail licenses were KindPeoples in Santa Cruz, 530 Cannabis in Shasta Lake, and Torrey Holistics in San Diego.

Denver Arrests 12, Shutters 26 Marijuana Stores in Criminal Investigation. Police in Denver shut down 26 Sweet Leaf marijuana stores Thursday and arrested 12 people in an ongoing criminal investigation related to allegations the shops were selling larger amounts of marijuana than allowed under state law. The shops involved all received orders to close the business, the first time the city has issued an open-ended suspension to a legal pot business. The DEA was not involved.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Regulators Approve a Dozen More Dispensaries. The state's Medical Cannabis Commission has given the go-ahead for another 12 dispensaries to open their doors. The state currently has 10. Another 60 dispensaries that have received preliminary licenses are still awaiting final approval. The state has more than 10,000 registered patients and existing dispensaries have had a hard time keeping up with demand.

Michigan Starts Accepting Medical Marijuana Applications. The state's Medical Marihuana Licensing Board is now accepting applications for medical marijuana businesses under the new regime approved by the legislature earlier this year. Existing dispensaries will not have to shut down while their licenses are approved, a process that could take three or four months.

Drug Policy

Drug Overdose Deaths Continue to Rise. At least 66,324 people died of drug overdoses during the 12-month period ending in May 2017, up 17 percent from the 56,488 who died between May 2015 and May 2016, according to data released this week by the National Center for Health Statistics. Fentanyl and other synthetics overtook heroin as the leading killer, accounting for some 23,000 deaths compared to heroin's 15,525 and another 14,467 deaths from prescription opioids.

International

Mexico Senate Votes to Keep the Military in Police Role. Despite soaring violence and human rights abuses, the Mexican Senate voted early Friday to approve the "internal security law" even as protestors surrounded the Senate to decry the measure, which they say will militarize the country and harden a failed strategy of using soldiers to fight drug cartels. The bill now returns to the lower house, where passage is expected to be a formality. "We are concerned that the bill gives the armed forces a leadership and coordination role in certain circumstances, rather than limiting their role to aiding and assisting civilian authorities," said a statement issued by the UN high commissioner for human rights. "[It] does this in the absence of solid control mechanisms to ensure that operations are carried out with full respect for human rights." The proposal comes as Mexico suffers its most murderous year on record -- despite having the military involved in the fight against the cartels for the past 11 years.

Looking Back: The Biggest International Drug Policy Stories of the Past 20 Years [FEATURE]

With a thousand issues of Drug War Chronicle under our belts, we look back on the biggest international drug and drug policy stories of the past 20 years. (A companion piece looks at the biggest US domestic drug policy stories.) Here's what we find:

The 1998 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs. We've made some progress since then. (Creative Commons)
1. Global Prohibitionist Consensus Starts to Crumble

In 1998, the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), with anti-prohibitionist voices in the room but metaphorically on the outside, pledged itself to eradicating drugs in 10 years. That didn't happen. Now, nearly 20 years later, it is duly chastened, and the chorus of critics is much louder, but the UN still remains a painfully slow place to try to make change in global drug policy.

Yet, despite the foot-dragging in Vienna and New York, albeit at a glacial pace. The 2016 UNGASS couldn't bring itself to actually say the words "harm reduction," but acknowledged the practice in its documents. It couldn't bring itself to resolve to be against the death penalty in drug cases, but a large and growing number of member states spoke out against it. It couldn't officially acknowledge that there is "widespread recognition from several quarters, including UN member states and entities and civil society, of the collateral harms of current drug policies, and that new approaches are both urgent and necessary," even though that's what the UN Development Program said. And the UN admitted to having dropped the ball on making opioid analgesics available in the developing world.

It certainly wasn't ready to talk about drug legalization in any serious fashion. But despite the rigidity within the global anti-drug bureaucracy, driven in part by the hardline positions of many Asian and Middle Eastern member states, the global prohibitionist consensus is crumbling. Many European and Latin America states are ready for a new direction, and some aren't waiting for the UN's imprimatur. Bolivia has rejected the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs' provision criminalizing the coca plant, and Canada and Uruguay have both legalized marijuana with scant regard for UN treaty prohibitions. And of course there is Portugal's broad decriminalization system, encompassing all drugs.

There's a real lesson in all of this: The UN drug treaties, the legal backbone of global drug prohibition, have proven to be toothless. There is no effective mechanism for punishing most countries for violating those treaties, at least not relative to the punishing effects they suffer from prohibition. Other countries will take heed.

2. Afghanistan Remains the World's Opium Breadbasket

When the US invaded Afghanistan in late 2001, it entered into a seemingly endless war to defeat the Taliban and, along with it, the opium trade. Sixteen years and more than a trillion dollars later, it has defeated neither. Afghanistan was already the world's leading producer of opium then, and it still is.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, in 2000, the country produced more than 3,000 tons of opium. The following year, with the Taliban imposing a ban on poppy planting in return for US aid and international approval, production dropped to near zero. But in 2002, production was back to more than 3,000 tons, and Afghan poppy farmers haven't looked back since.

In the intervening years, Afghanistan has accounted for the vast majority of global opium production, reaching 90% in 2007 before plateauing to around 70% now (as production increases in Latin America). It has consistently produced at least 3,000 tons a year, with that amount doubling in selected years.

For years, US policymakers were caught in a dilemma, and drug war imperatives were subordinated to anti-Taliban imperatives. The problem was that any attempt to go after opium threatened to push peasants into the hands of the Taliban. Now, the Trump administration is bombing Taliban heroin facilities. But it hasn't bombed any heroin facilities linked to corrupt Afghan government officials.

Holland's famous cannabis cafes were the first break with global marijuana prohibition. (Creative Commons)
3. Movement Toward Acceptance of Recreational Marijuana

Twenty years ago, only the Netherlands had come to terms -- sort of -- with marijuana, formally keeping it illegal, but, in a prime example of the Dutch's policy of gedogen (pragmatic tolerance), with possession and sale of small amounts allowed. (The Dutch are only now finally dealing with the "backdoor problem," the question of where cannabis cafes are supposed to get their supplies if it can't be grown legally).

The first entities to legalize marijuana were the US states of Colorado and Washington in 2012, and Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize marijuana in 2014. Canada will become the second country to do so next year. In the meantime, six more US states and the District of Columbia have also jumped on the bandwagon.

While full legalization may yet be a bridge too far for most European and Latin American countries, marijuana decriminalization has really taken hold there, with numerous countries in both regions having embraced the policy. Marijuana has now been decriminalized in Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia (you can possess up to 22 grams legally), Costa Rica, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Equador, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Jamaica, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and Ukraine, among others. Oh, and Iran, too.

4. Andean Whack-A-Mole: The Fruitless Quest to Quash Cocaine

The United States, and to a much lesser degree, the European Union, have spent billions of dollars trying to suppress coca leaf cultivation and cocaine production in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. It hasn't worked.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), coca leaf cultivation was just under 500,000 acres in 1998; this week, UNODC reported that coca leaf cultivation was at 470,000 acres last year -- and that's not counting the 75,000 acres under legal cultivation in Bolivia.

When it comes to actual cocaine production, it's pretty much the same story: Again according to the UNODC, cocaine production was at 825 tons in 1998, peaked at just over a million tons a year in 2004-2007, and is now at just under 800 tons. There have been peaks and troughs, but here we are, pretty much in the same place we started.

Military intervention didn't stop it. Military and anti-drug assistance hasn't stopped it. Alternative development programs haven't stopped it. The global cocaine market is insatiable, and nothing has been able to tear Andean peasant farmers from what is by far their best cash crop. Bolivia, at least, has largely made peace with coca -- although not cocaine -- providing a legal, regulated market for coca farmers, but in Peru and Colombia eradication and redevelopment efforts continue to spark conflict and social unrest.

5. Mexico's Brutal Drug Wars

During the 1980s and 1990s, accusations ran rampant that in a sort of pax mafiosi, the Mexican government cut deals with leading drug trafficking groups to not so much fight the drug trade as manage it. Those were the days of single party rule by the PRI, which ended with the election of Vicente Fox in 2000. With the end of single party rule, the era of relative peace in the drug business began to unravel.

As old arrangements between drug traffickers and political and law enforcement figures fell apart, so did the informal codes that governed trafficker behavior. When once a cartel capo would accept his exemplary arrest, during the Fox administration, the gangsters began shooting back at the cops -- and fighting among themselves over who would control which profitable franchise.

Things took a turn for the worse with the election of Felipe Calderon in 2006 and his effort to burnish his political credentials by sending in the army to fight the increasingly wealthy, violent, and brazen cartels. And they haven't gotten any better since. While American attention to Mexico's drug wars peaked in 2012 -- a presidential election year in both countries -- and while the US has thrown more than a billion dollars in anti-drug aid Mexico's way in the past few years, the violence, lawlessness, and corruption continues. The death toll is now estimated to be around 200,000, and there's no sign anything is going to change anytime soon.

Well, unless we take leading 2018 presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) at his word. This week, AMLO suggested a potential amnesty for cartel leaders, indicating, for some, at least, a pax mafiosi is better than a huge, endless pile of corpses.

6. Latin America Breaks Away from US Drug War Hegemony

The US imports its drugs and exports its prohibition-related violence, and the region grows tired of paying the price for America's war on its favorite vices. When once Latin American leaders quietly kowtowed to drug war demands from Washington, at least some of them have been singing a different tune in recent years.

Bolivia under Evo Morales has resolutely followed its own path on legalizing coca cultivation, despite bellows from Washington, successive Mexican presidents weary of the bloodshed turn an increasingly critical eye toward US drug war imperatives, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos sees what Washington-imposed prohibitionist policies have done to his county and cries out for something different, and so did Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina before he was forced out of office on corruption charges.

Latin American countries are also increasingly pursuing their own drug policies, whether it's constitutionally protected legalization of personal use amounts of drugs in Colombia, decriminalization of marijuana across the continent, or downright legalization in Uruguay, Latin American leaders are no longer taking direction from Washington -- although they generally remain happy to take US anti-drug dollars.

A North American first: Vancouver's safe injection site opened in 2003. (Creative Commons)
7.Safe Injection Sites Start Spreading

The notion of providing a place where intravenous drug users could shoot up under medical supervision and get access to referrals to public health and welfare services was derided by foes as setting up "shooting galleries" and enabling drug use, but safe injection sites have proven to be an effective intervention, linked to reduced overdoses, reduced crime, and moving drug users toward treatment.

These examples of harm reduction in practice first appeared in Switzerland in the late 1980s; with facilities popping up in Germany and the Netherlands in the 1990s; Australia, Canada, Luxembourg, Norway, and Spain in the 2000s; and, most recently, Denmark and France.

By now, there are nearly a hundred safe injection sites operating in at least 61 cities worldwide, including 30 in Holland, 16 in Germany, and eight in Switzerland. We are likely to see safe injection sites in Ireland and Scotland very soon.

It looks like they will soon be appearing in the United States, too. Officials in at least two cities, San Francisco and Seattle, are well on the way to approving them, although the posture of the federal government could prove an obstacle.

8. And Heroin Maintenance, Too

Even more forward looking as a harm reduction measure than safe injection sites, heroin maintenance (or opiate-assisted treatment) has expanded slowly, but steadily over the past two decades. The Swiss did the first trials in 1994, and now such programs are available there (after decisively winning a 2008 referendum on the issue), as well as Germany and the Netherlands.

Such programs have been found to reduce harm by helping users control their drug use, reducing overdoses, reducing drug-related disease, and promoting overall health and well-being, while also reducing social harms by reducing crime related to scoring drugs, reducing public use and drug markets, and promoting less chaotic lifestyles among participants, leading to increased social integration and better family life and employment prospects.

A Canadian pilot program, the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI) produced similar results. Maybe the United States will be ready to get it a try one of these years.

9. New Drugs, New Markets

So far, this has been the century of new drugs. Known variously as "research chemicals," "designer drugs," or fake this and that, let's call them new psychoactive substances (NSPs). Whether it's synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones, synthetic benzodiazepines, synthetic opioids, or something entirely novel, someone somewhere is producing it and selling it.

In its 2017 annual review, the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Addictions (EMCDDA) reported in was monitoring 620 NSPs, up from 350 in 2013, and was adding new ones at the rate of over one a week.

These drugs, often of unknown quality or potency, in some cases have wreaked havoc among drug users around the world and are a prime example of the bad things that can happen when you try to suppress some drugs: You end up with worse ones.

The communications technology revolution that began with the world wide web impacts drug policy just as it impact everything else. Beginning with the infamous Silk Road drug sales website, the dark web and the Tor browser have enabled drug sellers and consumers to hook up anonymously online, with the drugs delivered to one's doorstep by Fedex, UPS, and the like.

Silk Road has been taken down and its proprietor, Ross Ulbricht, jailed for decades in the US, but as soon as Silk Road was down, new sites popped up. They got taken down, and again, new sites popped up. Rinse and repeat.

European authorities estimate the size of the dark web drug marketplace at about $200 million a year -- a fraction of the size of the overall trade -- but warn that it is growing rapidly. And why not? It's like an Amazon for drugs.

10.Massacring Drug Suspects in Southeast Asia

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has drawn international condemnation for the bloody war he unleashed on drug suspects upon taking office last year. Coming from a man who made his reputation for leading death squads while Mayor of Davao City, the wave of killings is shocking, but not surprising. The latest estimates are that some 12,000 people have been killed.

What's worse is that Duterte's bad example seems to be gaining some traction in the neighborhood. Human rights groups have pointed to a smaller wave of killings in Indonesia, along with various statements from Indonesian officials expressing support for Duterte-style drug executions. And most recently, a Malaysian member of parliament urged his own country to emulate Duterte's brutal crackdown.

This isn't the first time Southeast Asia has been the scene of murderous drug war brutality. Back in 2003, then Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra launched a war on drugs that saw 2,800 killed in three months.

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