Mexican Drug War

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Chronicle AM: NY MJ Legalization Poll Shows Strong Support, Tulsi Gabbard Calls for Drug Legalization, More... (1/21/20)

A New York poll shows strong support for marijuana legalization, Dutch opinion-shapers push for a new drug policy, a US presidential candidate calls for drug legalization and more.

Dutch drug policy is tolerant but incomplete. (Amsterdam canal image via pixabay.com)
Marijuana Policy

California Lawmakers Ponder Temporary Tax Cut for Legal Weed. Lawmakers last Friday revived a measure to temporarily cut taxes on marijuana in a bid to boost the state's legal marijuana market. The bill would cut the state excise tax on marijuana from 15% to 11% and eliminate a cultivation tax for the next three years. The effort foundered last year when Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) objected, but it now appears he is open to changing his mind. Lawmakers estimated that up to 75% of the state's marijuana is still sold in the black market.

New York Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. As the state legislature prepares to try to pass marijuana legalization again this year, a new Sienna College poll finds the public is ready. The poll had support for legalization at 58%.

Drug Policy

Tulsi Gabbard Endorses Legalizing Drugs. Longshot Democratic presidential contender Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HA) has come out for legalizing currently illicit drugs. "If we take that step to legalize and regulate, then we're no longer treating people who are struggling with substance addiction and abuse as criminals and instead getting them the help that they need," she at a campaign stop in Merrimack, New Hampshire on Friday. Her comments came in response to a voter's question about whether she intended to emphasize harm reduction and treatment or move instead to legalization. "All of the above," she said. "The costs and the consequence to this failed war on drugs is so vast and far reaching, socially and fiscally, that if we take these necessary steps, we'll be able to solve a lot of other problems that we're dealing with in this country."

International

Dutch Push for New Drug Policy. Parliamentarians, TV celebrities, health experts, lawyers, and dance scene personalities are among the 79 people who have signed a new manifesto calling for a major shift in Dutch drug policy. "The need for a new and realistic drugs policy is greater than ever. The international drug trade has taken root in the Netherlands and with serious consequences," the online manifesto states. "Mayors are receiving death threats, a lawyer was murdered, and ecstasy waste dumping is threatening the environment. But the manifest powerlessness in the face of drug-related crime is making for ever greater repression." The aim, signatories said, is to reduce drug harms and increase public safety, and that should be done by tackling black market drug revenues. "A regulated -- not a free -- drugs market [is] the starting point of a new drugs policy. lllegality fuels crime. That is why we must tackle the revenue model of the criminals and make a regulated -- not a free -- drug market the starting point of a new drugs policy."

Mexican Murders Hit All-Time High. The country saw some 34,582 murders in 2019, demonstrating the challenge President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador faces while waging war on drug cartels. The 2019 figure is a 2.5% increase over 2018, despite Lopez Obrador's less confrontational approach to drug cartels.

(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 website. 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: Federal Marijuana Prosecutions Drop, Drug Czar Touts Reduced Overdoses, More... (1/17/20)

A New Mexico pot legalization bill gets filed, Rhode Island's governor calls for legalization, the drug czar touts a drop in drug overdose deaths, and more.

Federal marijuana prosecutions declined significantly last year, a new report finds. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Prosecutions Decline. Federal marijuana prosecutions declined by 28% from September 30, 2018 to September 30, 2019, according to a report from Supreme Court Justice John Roberts. The year-end report also found that total federal filings for drug crimes was up 5% over the same period, with some 83,000 cases.

New Mexico Legalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D) and Rep. Javier Martinez (D) have filed a bill, Senate Bill 115, that would allow adults in the state to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers. The move comes just a day after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signaled that she supported legalizing marijuana this year. The bill would also automatically expunge prior possession convictions and promote participation by small and tribal-owned businesses. The bill would not allow home cultivation, but would decriminalize the growing up of to three plants and six seedlings.

Rhode Island Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization Proposal in State Budget Plan. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) has included marijuana legalization as a priority in the state budget plan she released Thursday. The plan envisions state-contracted private marijuana retailers with the state controlling location, price, potency, and quantity of sales. Revenues would be divvied up among the state (61%), the private contractors (29%), and local communities (10%). This is the second year Raimondo is including adult-use cannabis legalization in the state budget; she introduced a similar proposal last year, which was ultimately unsuccessful.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Drug Czar Touts Decline in Overdose Deaths. Jim Carroll, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), said Friday that the country had seen a decline in drug overdose deaths for the first time in 30 years. "For the first time in almost 30 years, we've seen a decline in the number of Americans dying from an overdose -- it's a 5 percent reduction," he said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 70,000 people died of a drug overdose in 2017, with synthetic opioids such as fentanyl being the main driver behind those deaths.

Foreign Policy

US, Mexico Agree on Plan to Reduce Illegal Guns, Drug Trade. The Mexican government said Thursday it had reached agreement with the United States on a plan to combat the illicit trafficking of arms, drugs, and money. The announcement came after a meeting between US Attorney General William Barr and Mexican officials. The two countries said they agreed to cooperate on reducing drug consumption and combating addiction. The agreement came after President Trump threatened in November to designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations, prompting Mexican officials to quickly seek talks.

International

Canadian Health Minister Says Time Not Right for Drug Decriminalization. Health Minister Patty Hadju said Thursday that talk about decriminalizing drugs to deal with the country's opioid crisis is premature until people have enough help to fight their addictions. "My personal perspective on decriminalization is that it can't be done in a broad sweep," she said. "I think that having a comprehensive kind of approach that includes things like prevention, treatment, harm reduction, enforcement, housing, those are the kind of things that are actually going to start to move the needle," Hajdu said. "It's too premature to have a conversation about full decriminalization of substances until we get to the place where we have comprehensive support for people to get well."

The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2019 [FEATURE]

(See our Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2019 feature here.)

We're looking at 2019 through the rearview mirror now, but before we turn our sights to 2020, it's worth taking a few moments to look back at the last year in international drug policy. From marijuana law reform to the push for drug decriminalization, from the coca fields of Colombia to the poppy fields of Afghanistan, and from the killing fields of Mexico and the Philippines, there was a lot going on. Here are ten of the biggest international drug policy stories of 2019, in no particular order.

Medical marijuana was on the move in 2019 -- sort of -- at the UN's Vienna headquarters.
1. Marijuana Legalization and Decriminalization Advances

The wall of marijuana prohibition continued to crumble in 2019, albeit at an achingly slow pace.

A lot of the activity was in Europe. In March, Switzerland announced plans to let up to 5,000 people legally smoke marijuana in pilot studies aimed at shaping rules for recreational use of the drug.

In the Netherlands, the government finally moved in August to address the longstanding "backdoor problem," where marijuana is allowed to be sold but there is no legal source of supply. It announced a pilot program to begin in 2021 in which cannabis cafes in ten Dutch cities will be supplied with legally grown marijuana. The big cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam opted out because of worries that problems could arise if they all abandoned their illicit suppliers simultaneously.

In Denmark, the city council in Copenhagen, the country's capital and largest city, voted overwhelmingly in August to support a pilot program that would see marijuana sold legally across the city. The council has long pushed for this, but now there is a new left-wing government, so perhaps it will be allowed to happen.

Also in August, Luxembourg looked set to become the first European country to free the weed, as the government confirmed plans to legalize it, saying that residents 18 and over should be able to use and purchase it within two years. In December, though, the government said it will still be at least two years, citing "delays in working on policy related to the legislation."

And just at year's end, in Italy, the Supreme Court ruled that the small-scale personal cultivation of marijuana is legal, triggering calls for further legalization. The court declared that laws against growing drug crops should not apply to "small amounts grown domestically for the exclusive use of the grower."

And Israel decriminalized marijuana possession as of April 1. Possession of small amounts of marijuana in private homes is no longer to be treated as an offense, criminal or otherwise, while public possession will generate a fine of around $275, with that fine doubling for a second offense within five years. Only people who commit a third public possession offense within seven years will face the possibility of criminal prosecution.

In Australia, Canberra, the national capital, became the first city in the country to legalize marijuana personal use and cultivation. The law legalizes up to 50 grams and two plants per person, but not sales. It is set to go into effect on January 31, 2020, but conflicts with national marijuana prohibition, so stay tuned. And in nearby New Zealand, the governing coalition announced in May it would hold a binding referendum on marijuana legalization during the 2020 elections. In December, it unveiled a government web site with information on the proposed legalization bill that will be put before the voters.

In the Western hemisphere, Uruguay and Canada have led the way on marijuana legalization, but Mexico looks set to be the next over the line. After legislators there failed to pass legalization by a Supreme Court-imposed deadline at the end of October, the court gave them an extension until June 1 to get it done. Lawmakers got very close late in 2019 but were unable to close the deal because of disputes among competing business interests. There was action in Colombia, too, where an opposition senator filed a legalization bill in August. That bill is reportedly backed by former President Juan Manuel Santos, but it is the votes of the Liberal Party that will determine whether it advances.

There was progress in the Caribbean, too. In Trinidad & Tobago, non-commercial marijuana legalization went into effect in December, allowing people to possess up to 30 grams and grow four plants. A regulated marijuana marketplace is likely coming in 2020. In St. Kitts and Nevis,the government in midsummer filed a bill to legalize marijuana for "medicinal and scientific, religious, and recreational purposes." It remains pending at year's end. A similar effort is underway in the British Virgin Islands, where a draft bill to legalize marijuana is being reviewed by government officials.

2. Medical Marijuana on the Move

Acceptance of medical marijuana on the global stage continued to increase in 2019, and the year got off to a good start in January when the Israeli Cabinet gave final approval to exports, making it the third country, after Canada and the Netherlands, to do so. The following month, the European Parliament approved a resolution to advance medical marijuana in countries that form the European Union.

Meanwhile, Thailand formally embraced medical marijuana when King Maha Vajirlongkorn signed a decree legalizing it and kratom; and later in the year, a member of the country's ruling coalition government filed a bill that would allow people to grow up to six plants for personal medicinal use. And in the Philippines, a bill to legalize medical marijuana was reintroduced in 2019. Similar bills have been filed each year since 2014. Last year, the bill passed the lower house but failed to get out of the Senate.

In Latin America, Peru joined the ranks of medical marijuana countries more than a year after it became law when the government finally approved regulations to cover its production and use. In Mexico, the Supreme Court in August gave the federal health ministry until January to issue regulations on medical marijuana.

In the Caribbean, in August, Barbados introduced legislation to establish the legal foundation for a local medical marijuana industry, joining Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines as well as Antigua and Barbuda in approving marijuana cultivation.

Medical marijuana was sort of on the move at the United Nations too. In late January, the World Health Organization recommended the removal of marijuana from Schedule IV of the global drug treaties, the most restrictive category, along with other related reclassifications of substances involving marijuana's components or synthetic substitutes for them. This would stop short of the kind of full stamp of approval WHO gives to many drugs -- marijuana would not become an "essential medicine" -- but it would eliminate a designation that some governments might find constraining in terms of allowing medical use in their own countries. Most importantly, it would be widely seen as recognition by the UN of marijuana as a medicine (though international law does not ban medical use of marijuana now).

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs -- the subset of UN member states that sets drug policy for the UN -- was supposed to vote on the WHO recommendations during its March meeting, but that didn't happen because the recommendations were delayed at the end of 2018, leaving several countries to complain that they needed more time to study them.

"You can't arrest your way out of a drug problem." So why not try decriminalization? (Creative Commons)
3. Drug Decriminalization on the Move

Beyond marijuana legalization, the decriminalization of drug use and possession is probably the most significant means within current political striking range for reducing the criminal justice harms of drug prohibition. Portugal, which decriminalized in 2001, remains a shining example to emulate.

In Canada, in May, the House of Commons Health Committee called on the federal government to study Portugal's drug decriminalization and see how the model could be "positively applied in Canada." The following month, British Columbia nurses called urgently for decriminalization, but in September, as he campaigned for reelection, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said decriminalization was not on the agenda, even though the national Liberal Party caucus in 2018 passed a resolution calling to "reclassify low-level drug possession and consumption as administrative violations" rather than criminal ones. The conversation is advancing north of the border.

The conversation is also advancing in the United Kingdom, where the Scottish National Party formally endorsed drug decriminalization, as did the British Parliament's Health and Social Care Committee and Parliament's Scottish Affairs Committee. Britain's leading medical journal, The Lancet, came out hard for decriminalization in a special drugs issue released in October. The following month, Britain's largest drug treatment providers called for radical drug policy reforms, including decrim. But the ruling Conservative Party with Boris Johnson freshly installed as prime minister, remains opposed -- for now.

It's not just Canada and Great Britain, either. In Mexico, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in May submitted a decriminalization plan to Congress, while in Malaysia, the government announced in June that it planned to drop criminal penalties for drug use and possession. The following month, in Colombia, the legislative opposition and the center-right block filed a bill to decriminalize there.

In Australia, the New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry into Ice (methamphetamine) released recommendations in October calling for harm reduction approaches and decriminalization. In the United States, an effort to put a decrim initiative on the 2020 Oregon ballot got underway in the fall, and a national movement to decriminalize psychedelics got underway.

The push to decriminalize is also working its way through the global drug control bureaucracy, as was evident in March when a key UN organization called for global drug decriminalization. The UN Chief Executives Board (CEB), representing 31 UN agencies including the Office on Drugs and Crime, adopted a position calling on member states to adopt science-based, health-oriented approaches to drug policy -- namely decriminalization. The policy shift -- or rather, recognition of what the policies of UN agencies on this already were -- came in January but was not publicly announced.

4. Harm Reduction and Human Rights

Along with decriminalization, harm reduction and concern about human rights gained momentum in 2019.

In March, a coalition of UN Member States, UN entities and leading human rights experts meeting at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna launched a landmark set of international legal standards around drug policy: the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy. The following month, more than 300 NGOs called for harm reduction and drug decriminalization at the 26th International Harm Reduction Conference in Lisbon.

In the United Kingdom, both the British Labour Party and Parliament's Scottish Affairs Committee called for safe injection sites, while in Ireland, a Dublin safe injection site was moving closer to reality at year's end.

In Australia, the New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry into Ice (methamphetamine) recommended harm reduction approaches in October, and the New Zealand government in December announced a pilot program to examine pill-testing at festivals, marking the first time such a study will have been done in the country.

5. Mexico Ravaged by Prohibition-Related Violence for Another Year

In January, Mexican authorities reported that the number of murders in 2018 hit an all-time high with more than 33,000, many of them directly linked to violence among competing drug cartels and between cartels and the state. A lot happened between then and now, but at the end of 2019, this year's death toll was at just under 32,000. At least it didn't get worse, but those numbers are still horrifying, and the year-old administration of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador hasn't been able to turn the corner yet. It's not for lack of trying or willingness to embrace new ideas.

In February, the Mexican Senate approved a plan for a new National Guard to fight crime and drug trafficking, but only after amending it to ensure that the new security force is headed by civilians, not the military, which has been linked to numerous human rights violations.

In May, Lopez Obrador called for an end to Plan Merida, under which the US provided security assistance to fight the drug war, with the president saying he wants the US to end the anti-drug Merida Initiative and instead invest in economic development in southern Mexico and Central America. Saying the plan "hasn't worked," Lopez Obrador added that, "We don't want cooperation on the use of force, we want cooperation on economic development. We don't want the so-called Merida Initiative."

In June, the murder rate topped 2,000 a month for this first time, a toll linked to the rise of the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which is seeking to supplant the Sinaloa cartel formerly headed by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who is now serving a sentence in the US. In north-central Guanajuato state, the JNGC has been duking it out with yet another faction, the Santa Rose de Lima cartel, leaving more than 3,200 dead in that state alone by year's end.

By August, a Catholic bishop issued a call for dialogue between the government and armed groups, including drug cartels. That was Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoza of Chilpancingo-Chilapa (Guerrero state), a key opium-growing region. Responding to the government's announcement that it was in talks with so-called community police groups and self-defense militias, but not the cartels, the bishop chided the government, saying, "To get peace you have to dialogue, even with Satan, with whomever it might be to get peace."

As cartel clashes raged through the summer and fall, the government tentatively explored alternatives to continuing drug war. In September, Lopez Obrador said he was considering a referendum on drug legalization, and in October, the ruling MORENA Party's leader in the Chamber of Deputies, Mario Delgado Carrillo, proposed legalizing all drugs to combat cartel violence. His comments were in response to one of the more brazen cartel actions in 2019, when Sinaloa Cartel gunmen forced the release of El Chapo's son after he was captured by security forces in the cartel heartland city of Culiacan and they turned the city into a war zone until Ovidio Guzman was freed, greatly embarrassing the government.

That same month, in another brazen attack, gun men from the JNGC ambushed police in Michoacan, killing more than a dozen and leaving signed placards on their bodies warning police not to support rival crime groups, such as Los Viagras.

In yet another act of gruesome violence -- and one that caught the attention of Americans long bored with the violence south of the border -- in November, cartel gun men killed nine women and children with dual US-Mexico citizenship, prompting President Trump to suggest he could use the US military to "wage war" against the cartels. Lopez Obrador declined that offer [Ed: wisely, for them and for us].

6. Coca, Cocaine and Chaos in Colombia

According to both the UN and the US, Colombia accounted for around 70% of global cocaine production in 2017, when the country produced 1,275 tons of cocaine, the most ever. In 2018, production declined by a tiny percentage, but remained near record high levels. There are no figures available yet for 2019, but there is no reason to suspect much has changed.

The high levels of coca cultivation and cocaine production have made a return to aerial spraying of coca crops a key goal of the rightist government of President Ivan Duque, who in March asked the Constitutional Court to ease restrictions on spraying, which President Juan Manuel Santos banned after the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as a likely carcinogen. That position won the support of US Secretary of State Pompeo in June, when, ignoring the global criticism of glyphosate and any other strategies for reducing cultivation, he called spraying "an important tool they need" to reduce coca production.

But in July, the Constitutional Court upheld the ban, although it also said spraying could resume if the government met certain conditions. At the end of December, the government announced plans to resume spraying, publishing a draft law that would allow fumigation flights under supervision of the national police. The proposal also calls for the creation of an independent agency that would oversee complaints related to aerial spraying including any potential impacts on rural communities.

Meanwhile three years after a peace deal between former President Santos and the leftist guerrillas of the FARC was signed, violence and chaos in the countryside are increasing. In March, coca farmers clashed with police in Cordoba, saying they were returning to coca after two years of waiting for economic and security assistance that never arrived. In April, a UN report found massacres on the increase, reflecting new criminal dynamics in key areas of the country.

In June, the government reported a jump in murders, driven largely by battles for control over coca-growing areas that had previously been controlled by the leftist the FARC, leaving FARC dissidents, other guerrilla groups, and criminal drug trafficking groups fighting over who will control the fields. And in August, a new report from Human Rights Watch found that renewed fighting over control of the cocaine trade in the Catatumbo region had forced some 40,000 people to flee their homes. Human Rights Watch accused the Colombian government of "not meeting its obligations" to protect civilians in the area.

And speaking of the FARC, they're back. In June, a military intelligence report said as many as a third of FARC fighters had picked up their guns again. They were joining dissident FARC groups operating in coca-growing regions. Disarmed FARC rebels were supposed to have been reintegrated into society, but that has been stymied by violence and discrimination. At least 139 former FARC members have been killed since disarming.

A couple of month later, FARC dissidents made it official. In August, dissident FARC leaders announced they were rejoining the path of armed struggle. Three years after an historic peace agreement between the leftist guerrillas of the FARC and the Colombian state, the dissidents said that the rightist government of President Ivan Duque had betrayed the peace accord. Led Ivan Marquez (Luciano Marin), they said they were ready for a "new stage of fightingm," citing the murders of more than a hundred former FARC members and labor activists, as well as the government's failure to provide sustainable development assistance to areas formerly under their control. "The state has not fulfilled its most important obligation, which is to guarantee the life of its citizens and especially avoid assassinations for political reasons," said Marquez. The number of dissidents affiliated with Marquez is estimated at around 2,000-3,000. The civil war with the FARC that began in 1964 left more than 220,000 people dead.

President Duque also faces challenges to his hardline approach to drug policy in both the courts and the congress. The Constitutional Court threw out his ban on public pot smoking and drinking, meaning police can no longer confiscate drugs considered to be for personal consumption, and people are again allowed to smoke marijuana and drink beer in public. But it's unclear whether Duque will abide by the ruling.

And in June, the legislative opposition and a center-right bloc filed a package of four bills that seek to decriminalize drug use and ban glyphosate, the chemical the government wants to use to fumigate coca. What opposition lawmakers want is to curb drug abuse by strengthening health care and to fight drug trafficking via voluntary crop substitution and rural development.

Bolivia's coca grower president, Evo Morales, was forced from office late in 2019. (Creative Commons)
7. Farewell to Bolivia's Coca Grower President

Long-time Bolivian leader Evo Morales, a former coca growers union leader who won the presidency in 2005 and was reelected twice was forced from office and fled the country after extended protests in the wake of disputed elections in November. Morales resigned after he lost the support of the military, which called on him to quit after weeks of sometimes violent protests.

As president, Morales broke with US drug policy in the region and legalized the production of coca in the country. He also lifted millions of Bolivians out of poverty, through heavy investments in public works projects. He began to lose support after ignoring a referendum calling on him not to run again, which had followed a series of controversies and scandals. Chaos escalated after an unexplained 24-hour delay in vote-counting before he was declared the victor. The country is now ruled by an interim hard right regime, but elections are supposed to happen in the next three months.

8. Philippines Drug War Faces International Pushback

The international community turned up the heat on Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte and his bloody drug war in 2019, but Duterte was undeterred.

In 2018, the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination into human rights abuses in the drug war, and that March, Duterte responded by quitting the ICC. But the ICC said its preliminary investigation into Filipino drug war abuses would continue. In December 2019 the ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that the examination was in the "very late stages," and that a decision on whether to open an investigation would be made during 2020.

In April, human rights advocates and harm reductionists rallied against the Philippine drug war at the 26th Harm Reduction International Conference in Porto, Portugal. "The Philippine government's barbaric campaign against the drug trade is severely harming the health and security of its communities. The evidence that punitive drug policies don't work is irrefutable. People around the world have sent a clear message to the government today -- stop the killings and invest in the health and human rights of your people," Naomi Burke-Shyne, Harm Reduction International executive director, said.

In June, the Philippines National Police put the drug war's official death toll at 6,600, up from just under 5,000 seven months earlier. Human rights groups put the toll much higher, some as high as 30,000, with killings divided between police and shadowy vigilante groups.

That same month, UN experts called for a human rights probe of the Philippines drug war. A group of 11 United Nations human rights experts called or the UN's Human Rights Council to start an independent probe into rights violations in the Philippines, including illegal killings in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody crackdown on drugs. The call gained momentum when a group of two dozen countries called for a UN investigation of drug war killings. A draft resolution submitted by Iceland and supported mainly by West European countries urged the government to halt extrajudicial executions and called on the UN Human Rights Council to address the crisis. And a major report from Amnesty International on drug war atrocities added fuel to the fire.

In July, the full UN Human Rights Council voted to begin an investigation into the mass killings. The Duterte government responded by refusing to grant the UN access to the country to investigate the killings and other human rights abuses. And Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin called the UN experts "bastards."

In November, representatives from 51 countries called for the Philippines to "STOP THE KILLINGS" at the Drug Policy Alliance's International Drug Policy Reform Conference in St. Louis. "With the world watching, we felt compelled to use our platform to draw attention to the horrendous crimes taking place every day in the Philippines, with the full-throated support of that country's president," said Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "The Philippines is a stark example of how the drug war can so easily serve as an excuse for targeting vulnerable people, and harassing critics, and punishing opponents."

Also in November, Duterte engaged in some political flim-flam when he named strong drug war critic Vice President Leni Robredo as drug czar, then fired her less than three weeks later. Duterte accused Robredo of embarrassing the country by drawing international attention to his bloody war on drugs. But Robredo vowed to carry on the fight. "When I took this job, I asked you, are you ready for me? My question to you now is what are you afraid of? Are you afraid of what I might discover? Are you afraid of what the public might discover?," Robredo said at a news conference. "If they think I will stop here, then they don't know me, I am just starting," Robredo said.

"They cannot remove my determination to stop the killings and hold those responsible to account and win the fight against illegal drugs."

Meanwhile, another prominent political figure and drug war critic, Senator Leila de Lima remains behind bars, where she has been since arrested on bogus drug charges in February 2017. But she got some support from the US Congress late this year. In two separate moves in December, the Senate approved a Free Leila resolution (Senate Resolution 42) and approved a State Department spending bill that includes a provision barring entry "to foreign government officials about whom the Secretary has credible information have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment of Senator Leila de Lima."

The Duterte government has responded in typical fashion: It has now denied entry to three US senators, Ed Markey (D-MA), who authored the de Lima resolution, and Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

9. Sri Lanka and the Death Penalty for Drugs

Under the baleful influence of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, now former Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena early in the year announced plans to end a 43-year moratorium on the death penalty so drug offenders could be executed, kicking off his campaign with an advertisement announcing job vacancies for executioners. In April, Sirisena announced the first executions would be coming soon as he presided over the burning of seized cocaine.

"To curb the illegal drug menace, it is necessary to implement the death penalty," he said. "The death penalty will be implemented in the coming days. The list has been prepared and we have decided on the date too."

But with the country in shock after the Easter Islamic terror attacks that left more than 200 people dead, Sirisena had other issues on his mind -- although in July, Sirisena falsely blamed drug gangs for the attacks, saying they were designed to discredit his anti-drug drive.

Sirisena's blood lust has so far been thwarted by the courts. In June, the Supreme Court delayed the execution of four people set to be hanged in October for drug offenses.

In October, as Sirisena's term was running out, his plans to make the executions his last act of state was again thwarted, with the Supreme Court again staying the executions until March 20, 2020. Now it will be up to newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaska to decide whether to continue Sirsena's aberration.

10. The Extent of the US's Drug War Fiasco in Afghanistan Becomes Achingly Apparent

In late October, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) issued its latest report on the seemingly endless US occupation of Afghanistan, and its analysis of American anti-opium efforts was particularly devastating. SIGAR found that although we've spent nearly $9 billion trying to suppress the opium poppy, Afghanistan remained far and away the world's largest opium producer throughout the US occupation.

The country produced a record high nine tons of opium in 2017, and although drought reduced last year's crop, SIGAR noted that "it remained at the second-highest level since the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) began monitoring it in 1994."

When it comes to suppressing illicit drug crops, there are three main approaches: eradication, interdiction and alternative development. According to the new SIGAR report, all three have proven ineffectual in Afghanistan. Interdiction activities -- drug busts -- have "minimal impact on the country's opium cultivation and production," SIGAR found, while eradication efforts "have had minimal impact on curbing opium-poppy cultivation." Alternative development was funded at low levels, and SIGAR found it "ineffectual at curbing opium cultivation."

Whew, that's pretty bad, but it gets worse. This month, the Washington Post published The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War, an extensive piece of investigative reporting that showed US officials consistently lied about making progress in the war even though they knew they weren't. The papers contain a section on opium, "Overwhelmed by Opium," that makes a thoroughly depressing read as it documents the myriad ways US anti-drug policy imploded. "Of all the failures in Afghanistan, the war on drugs has been perhaps the most feckless," the Post noted. That's saying something.

Chronicle AM: South Dakota MJ Legalization Vote, Mexico's Toll of Disappeared, More... (1/7/20)

The MORE Act gets another push, there will be no decriminalization of marijuana in New Jersey during the lame duck session, a South Dakota marijuana legalization initiative qualifies for the ballot, and more.

South Dakotans will vote on both medical marijuana and marijuana legalization initiatives in November. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Small Business Committee Moves Marijuana Bill Forward. The House Small Business Committee has waived jurisdiction over the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3884), making it the second House committee in the 116th Congress to advance legislation to end federal marijuana prohibition. The bill passed in the House Judiciary Committee in November. It would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and incentivize states to facilitate the expungement of criminal records related to low-level marijuana offenses, among other changes.

New Jersey Senate President Says No Decriminalization During Lame Duck Session. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) said Monday that lawmakers will not pass a bill to decriminalize marijuana during the lame duck session, which ends next Tuesday. "It's not getting done in lame duck," Sweeney said. After a legalization bill stalled last year, Sweeney had insisted that decrim could get done during this short session, but there is little evidence it was a top priority for any Democratic leaders. A binding voter referendum on whether to legalize marijuana will be on the November ballot.

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Qualifies for Ballot. Secretary of State Steve Barnett said Monday that a marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by New Approach South Dakota has qualified for the November ballot. The measure would legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana, as well as require the state legislature to pass laws regarding hemp. South Dakotans will also be voting on an initiative to legalize the medical use of marijuana.

International

Mexico's Toll of the Disappeared Doubles, According to Government Figures. The government on Monday issued new figures on the number of people gone missing in the country, the vast majority of them victims of the country's prohibition-related violence. As recently as last June, the government put the toll at about 40,000, but it now says the number is 61,000. Nearly 98% of the missing have disappeared since then-President Felipe Calderon sent the army into the streets to fight cartels.

Chronicle AM: CA Initiative Would Legalize Magic Mushroom Sales, Senate GOP Cartel Bill, More... (12/16/19)

The latest version of California's psilocbyin decriminalization initiative turns it into a legalization initiative, a group of Senate Republicans file a bill to treat drug cartels like terrorist organizations, and more.

Under the latest language in California's magic mushroom initiative, you could buy them at a store. (CC)
Psychedelics

California Psilocybin Decriminalization Initiative Now a Legalization Initiative. The latest version of the California Psilocybin Decriminalization initiative includes language that would legalize the production and sale of magic mushrooms, as well as decriminalizing their possession and use. "The personal, spiritual, religious, dietary, therapeutic, and medical use of Psilocybin Mushrooms by adults, including but not limited to the cultivation, manufacture, processing, production of edible products and extracts (with or without solvents) derived from Psilocybin Mushrooms, distribution, transportation, possession, storage, consumption, social consumption, on-site consumption, public events, farmers' markets, and retail sale, whether or not for profit, shall be lawful in this state and is a matter of statewide concern," the initiative now says.

Asset Forfeiture

Indiana Police Used $400K In Asset Forfeiture Funds to Boost Their Own Pay and Benefits, Audit Finds. A federal audit of Indiana law enforcement's use of federal asset forfeiture funds has found that police unlawfully used nearly $400,000 of those monies to increase their own pay and benefits. The federal "equitable sharing program" that distributes the funds does not allow police to use those monies for such expenses.

Kansas Lawmakers Punt on Asset Forfeiture Reform, Seek Review Instead of Passing Legislation. After an audit this past summer criticized law enforcement for taking advantage of vague asset forfeiture laws, lawmakers debated whether to enact legislation to remedy the situation. Now, they've decided not to act this year, but to instead ask a judicial advisory group to review any potential changes. The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony last month on several measures, including one to require a conviction before property is seized, but opted to send the bills to the Kansas Judicial Council, an advisory committee in the judicial branch. Chairman Blaine Finch said the council would be able to study the bills more extensively than the Legislature would.

Foreign Policy

Senate Republicans File Bill to Impose Sanctions on Drug Cartels. Led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), a group of nine Republican senators last week filed the Significant Transnational Criminal Organization Designation Act, legislation that would subject certain foreign criminal organizations like drug cartels to sanctions, including immigration, financial and criminal penalties. The process would be similar to the system used for designating entities as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs). Passage of the bill would allow the federal government to impose on the most significant Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) the same sanctions that apply to FTOs.

International

Thai Justice Minister to Speed Up Kratom Decriminalization. Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin says he will speed up the decriminalization of kratom. He said the Justice Ministry has formed a committee to study kratom-based medicines. "I will proceed with this project as soon as possible because legalization will truly benefit society," he said. Although kratom is not considered a scheduled drug by UN treaties, it has been illegal in Thailand since 1943, with possession punishable by up to a year in jail.

Zambia Legalizes Marijuana Production, But for Export and Medical Purposes Only. The government has approved a proposal to legalize marijuana production, but it will be restricted to exports and medical purposes. The government wants a $250,000 annual license fee from companies wishing to get into the business. Approval came last Wednesday during a cabinet meeting.

Chronicle AM: MLB Drug Testing Accord, US Charges Former Mexican Top Cop for Cartel Bribes, More... (12/12/19)

Major League Baseball and its players' union have reached a drug testing agreement, Wisconsin's GOP Senate leader kills a medical marijuana bill, and more.

Major League Baseball players will no longer be tested for marijuana, but now will be tested for opioids. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Kansas Residents Want Marijuana Legalization, Poll Finds. The annual Kansas Speaks survey, conducted by Fort Hayes State University, finds that 63% of respondents either "strongly support" or "somewhat support" legalizing and taxing marijuana for adult use. Only 26% "somewhat oppose" or "strongly oppose" it. The state doesn't even have legal medical marijuana yet.

Medical Marijuana

Wisconsin GOP Senate Leader Snuffs Out GOP Medical Marijuana Bill. Republicans Rep. Mary Felzowski and Sen. Kathy Bernier tried Wednesday to get a medical marijuana bill moving, only to be shot down by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald once again rejected the bill, saying he personally opposed and that he didn't think it would pass the GOP-controlled Senate.

Drug Testing

Major League Baseball, Players Union Agree on Drug Testing Policy. Major League Baseball and the players' union have agreed on a new drug testing policy that will add opioid testing for major leaguers and will not punish either minor or major league players for marijuana use. The move comes five months after the death of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs from an opioid overdose.

International

US Charges Former Mexican Top Cop with Taking Sinaloa Cartel Bribes. The US has charged former Mexican federal police overseer Genaro Garcia Luna with taking millions of dollars in bribes from Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel. He was arrested Monday in Texas after being indicted last week by a federal grand jury in Brooklyn on three counts of cocaine trafficking conspiracy and one count of making false statements for helping the cartel operate "with impunity" in Mexico. Garcia Luna served as Mexico's secretary of public security from 2006 to 2012 and has been living in the United States since 2012. If convicted, he faces a minimum of 10 years in prison and the maximum of a life sentence.

Chronicle AM: NJ Governor Now Calls for Pot Decrim, MA Bans Flavored Vaping Products, More... (11/27/19)

Mexico responds to President Trump's move to designate cartels as terrorist organizations, Massachusetts becomes the first state to ban flavored vaping products, and more. 

No flavored vapes for Massachusetts residents. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Governor Calls for Decriminalization as Interim Measure. With little chance of marijuana legalization until a proposed November 2020 voter referendum, Gov. Phil Murphy (D), a legalization proponent, has now announced he supports decriminalization as a short-term solution. In a Tuesday statement, Murphy said decriminalization "cannot be our long-term solution" but would provide "critical short-term relief" until voters weigh in next November. "Maintaining a status quo sees roughly 600 individuals, disproportionately people of color, arrested in New Jersey every week for low-level drug offenses is wholly unacceptable," Murphy said.

Foreign Policy

Trump Says He Will Designate Mexican Drug Cartels as Terrorists. President Donald Trump said Tuesday he will designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations. "They will be designated ... I have been working on that for the last 90 days. You know, designation is not that easy, you have to go through a process, and we are well into that process," Trump said. The move comes after nine US citizens were killed by suspected cartel members in northern Mexico earlier this month. Earlier, Trump offered in a tweet to help Mexico "wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth" in the aftermath of that attack.

Vaping

Massachusetts Bans Flavored Tobacco, Vaping Products. The state has become the first to ban the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products, including menthol cigarettes after Gov. Charlie Baker (R) signed the ban into law. Flavored vaping products are banned immediately, while the ban on menthol smokes goes into effect on June 1.

International

Mexico Rejects US Interventionism in Wake of Trump Designating Cartels Terrorists. Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Wednesday rejected US "interventionism" after US President Donald Trump said he was working on designating Mexican drug trafficking organizations as terrorists. Lopez Obrador said he was sending his foreign minister to Washington to lead talks after the Thanksgiving holiday. "Cooperation, yes, intervention, no," Lopez Obrador said in a morning news conference when asked about Trump’s comments.

Chronicle AM: Trump Offers to "Wage War" on Mexican Cartels, SD MedMJ and Legalization Initiatives, More... (11/5/19)

South Dakota medical marijuana and marijuana legalization campaigns turn in raw signatures, a California psychedelic decriminalization initiative gets updated, President Trump offers to "wage war" on Mexican drug cartels after an ambush left nine dual US-Mexican citzens dead, and more.

South Dakota's Badlands. Next year, the state could become less bad for marijuana users. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Turns in Signatures. The activist group South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws on Monday submitted more than 50,000 raw signatures to put a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana to a vote. The proposal would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for adults 21 and older and would require the legislature to pass laws regulating cultivation, processing and sale of hemp. The group needs 33,921 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2020 elections. State officials will announce in a matter of weeks whether the initiative has qualified.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. New Approach South Dakota, the group behind a medical marijuana initiative, handed in more than 30,000 raw signatures on Monday, nearly double the 16,691 valid voter signatures required to qualify the measure for the November 2020 ballot. State officials will announce in a matter of weeks whether the initiative has qualified.

Psychedelics

California Natural Psychedelics Initiative Refiled. Decriminalize California, the group behind a move to decriminalize psilocybin, has filed a new version of its initiative with state officials. The new version seeks a new ballot title and summary and adds language regarding amnesty for past offenses and allowing for sales of psilocybin.

Foreign Policy

In Wake of Killings of Nine Americans, Trump Says He Could Send US Military to "Wage War" on Mexican Drug Cartels. After nine dual US-Mexican citizens were killed in an ambush in Sonora on Monday, President Trump tweeted that he could send the US military into Mexico to "wage war" on drug cartels. The US was "ready, willing & able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively" if Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador asked for help, Trump said. Lopez Obrador declined the offer, but said he would speak to Trump about security cooperation between the two countries.

International

Mexican Supreme Court Gives Congress Six More Months to Legalize Marijuana. The Supreme Court has given Congress another six month to pass legislation that will legalize marijuana after Congress failed to get it done by an October 31 deadline. That means that the bill now seen as closest to the finishing line is likely to be modified. Its current version limits foreign ownership, vertical integration, and license resale, all of which are opposed by business interests. The Senate asked the court for an extension after failing to reach a consensus by the October deadline.

Philippine Drug War Critic Appointed to Key Drug Policy Role. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has appointed his main political rival and a harsh critic of his bloody drug war as co-chair of an inter-agency anti-drugs body. Vice-President Leni Robredo has criticized Duterte's tactics and expressed alarm about the death toll while saying that the deadly campaign has failed to stop the drug trade. The move could be a cynical ploy by Duterte to make her a scapegoat for the failures of his anti-drug campaign, a Robredo spokesman suggested.

Chronicle AM: Houston Police Get New Dope Squad, MA Vaping Ban Upheld, More... (10/22/19)

A Massachusetts judge has upheld the Republican govenor's ban on vaping product sales, Houston police get a new dope squad in the wake of a botched fatal drug raid, a key Mexican lawmaker calls for drug legalization as a means of reducing violence, and more.

No vaping products for Massachusetts, a state judge rules, upholding the governor's ban. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Judge Upholds Marijuana, Tobacco Vaping Ban. Suffolk Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins ruled on Monday that the state's four-month ban on all vaping products can stand as legal challenges work their way through the courts. Wilkins wrote that lifting the ban "would contravene the public interest." Gov. Charlie Baker (R) last month announced a statewide ban on the sale of vaping products in response to lung illnesses and deaths attributed to the use of e-cigarette products.

Law Enforcement

Houston Police Get New Dope Squad in Wake of Scandal. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has announced that the department has created a new drug squad to handle high-risk warrants. The move comes months after a botched drug raid that ended with two civilians dead and one officer charged with murder. The new unit, which begins operations next month, will handle all of the narcotics division's search warrants and will assist other divisions, Acevedo said. The new unit will not handle so-called "no-knock warrants," which will be reserved for the SWAT team.

International

China Warns Citizens Living in Canada Against Consuming Legal Cannabis. The Chinese government has warned citizens living in Canada to be wary of legal marijuana. A statement released by the consulate in Calgary does not bar Chinese citizens from buying or using marijuana, but it tells them to "fully understand the harmfulness of cannabis products."

Key Mexican Lawmaker Proposes Legalizing All Drugs to Combat Cartel Violence. Mario Delgado Carrillo, the leader of the ruling MORENA Party in the Chamber of Deputies -- the Mexican equivalent of Nancy Pelosi -- has suggested that the country should legalize all drugs in order to reduce cartel-related violence. The move comes days after cartel gunmen forced the government to release the son of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa, in a series of shootouts that left eight people dead. "I think that from the events we saw in Culiacán, it is urgent to enter a process to regularize drugs -- we should start with cannabis -- make a legal framework for its regulation and legalization, and reduce this black market," Delgado Carrillo said. "It would be necessary to enter now to regularize the drug market, to eliminate these markets that give so much power to organized crime," he said.

Chronicle AM: Lawrence, KS Ends Marijuana Prosecutions, El Chapo's Gunmen Free His Son in Firefight, More... (10/18/19)

The head of the Senate Banking Committee wants some changes made to the SAFE Banking Act, Kansas' Douglas County ends marijuana prosecutions, the Sinaloa Cartel battles Mexican soldiers and police to free El Chapo's son, and more.

The Mexican police and military were no match for the Sinaloa Cartel in Culicacan on Thursday. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Key GOP Senate Chairman Outlines Changes He Wants for Marijuana Banking Bill. Sen Mike Crapo (R-ID), head of the Senate Banking Committee, wants to see some changes in the SAFE Banking Act passed last month by the House. "The things we're looking at are, first of all, to make sure we improve and clarify the interstate banking application of all of this," Crapo said. "Secondly, money laundering issues with regard to legacy cash to make sure how that is managed properly. [Financial Crimes Enforcement Network] issues and other related issues. And then finally the health and safety issues about what is going to be banked."

Florida Marijuana Legalization Would Create 100,000 Jobs, Report Finds. A study from New Frontier Data finds that legalization would be a job booster for the state, creating more than 100,000 jobs by 2025. "Assuming full federal legalization, New Frontier Data estimates cannabis jobs could reach 128,587 by 2025," says John Kagia, chief knowledge officer at the DC-based research group. That's up dramatically from the state's current number of cannabis jobs, which Kagia says is at 16,792.

Kansas County Home to University of Kansas Ends Marijuana Possession Prosecutions. Douglas County, with a county seat of Lawrence, home of the University of Kansas, will no longer prosecute simple marijuana possession cases, District Attorney Charles Branson said Thursday. Branson cited changing attitudes, law enforcement priorities, and noted that pot prosecutions have "a disproportional impact upon people of color and the poor." The decision takes effect immediately.

Drug Testing

Louisiana Supreme Court Rules Unconfirmed Drug Test Can't Be Used to Deny Workers' Comp Claim. The state's highest court has ruled that an unconfirmed or unverified drug test is not sufficient to prove intoxication or fraud as a means of denying workers' compensation claims for injured workers. The court noted that state law requires verification or confirmation of any testing before disqualifying any claims.

International

Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel "Unarrests" El Chapo's Son as Security Forces Retreat. Mexican security forces captured one of imprisoned drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's sons in the cartel heartland city of Culiacan on Thursday, but were forced to release him after cartel gunmen surrounded the house where he was being held, triggered gun battles with authorities, and organized a prison break. Police said Ovidio Guzman was one of four people in a house where militarized police came under attack, but when they arrested him, cartel gunmen quickly outmatched them, and Guzman was released to prevent lives being lost, security officials said. As Guzman was being held, fighters emerged throughout the city, fighting police and soldiers in broad daylight, used burning buses as barricades, and left at least one gas station ablaze. At least two people were killed, though some reports mentioned seeing three bodies at one location.

Drug War Issues

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