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Biden Campaign Scorns Trump Demand for Pre-Debate Drug Test, NE MedMJ Advocates File for 2022, More... (9/28/20)

Medical marijuana via telemedicine could be coming soon to New Jersey, medical marijuana via the ballot box could be coming to Nebraska in 2022, and more.

Trump claims with no evidence that Biden must be on performance-enhancing drugs. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Advocates Submit Language for 2022 Ballot. After the state Supreme Court deprived voters of a chance to choose to legalize medical marijuana this year, the group behind the effort, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, on Monday submitted petition language aimed at getting the issue on the 2022 ballot. Five Supreme Court judges ruled that the 2020 initiative, which had already qualified for the ballot, unconstitutionally dealt with more than one subject. The new language keeps it simple: "Persons in the State of Nebraska shall have the right to cannabis in all its forms for medical purposes," is all it says.

New Jersey Legislature Approves Medical Marijuana Telemedicine Bill. The Assembly last Thursday approved A-1635/S-619, which would allow health care practitioners to remotely authorize the use of medical marijuana via telemedicine. The bill had already passed the Senate and now goes to the desk of Gov. Phil Murphy (D).

Drug Testing

Biden Campaign Scorns Trump Demand for Candidate Drug Test. Suggesting without any evidence that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden uses performance-enhancing drugs, President Trump on Sunday demanded be subjected to a drug test before Tuesday's presidential debate. The Biden campaign was having none of it, responding thusly: "Vice President Biden intends to deliver his debate answers in words. If the president thinks his best case is made in urine he can have at it. We'd expect nothing less from Donald Trump, who pissed away the chance to protect the lives of 200K Americans when he didn't make a plan to stop COVID-19," the campaign said in a press release.

International

Mexico Bar Massacre Leaves 11 Dead. Armed gunmen killed 11 people Sunday in a bar in Jaral del Progreso, Guanajuato. The state has become the scene of recurring violence in recent months as the rival Santa Rosa de Lima gang and the powerful Jalisco New Generation Cartel vie for control of the state. Two months ago, 24 people were killed a drug rehab center in the city of Guanajuato, one of the worst mass slayings since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office pledging to reduce record levels of violence.

(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.)

Reform Groups Call for Marijuana Legalization Amidst COVID Crisis, DEA Part of Federal Anti-Crime Surge, More... (7/23/20)

The initial draft of the Democratic platform calls for not interfering with state marijuana laws but doesn't call for legalization, a North Dakota legalization campaign comes up short, hospitals are warning of IV opioid shortages, and more.

The Mexican military is being cited (again) for human rights abuses in its prosecution of the drug war. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Democratic Draft Platform Does Not Include Marijuana Legalization. The initial version of the national Democratic Party platform, released by the Democratic National Committee's platform drafting panel, calls for allowing states to set their own marijuana laws, but stops short of calling for federal legalization. Various marijuana policy reforms in the draft include decriminalizing cannabis possession, automatic expungement of prior marijuana convictions, federal rescheduling through executive action, legalizing medical cannabis, and allowing states to set their own laws. The draft could still be amended when the full platform committee meets next Monday.

Coalition of Justice and Drug Reform Groups Call on Congress to Legalize Marijuana Amid Coronavirus Crisis. The ACLU, the Drug Policy Alliance, NORML, and Human Rights Watch are among a coalition of civil rights and drug reform groups calling on Congress to pass comprehensive marijuana legalization legislation that emphasizes restorative justice. Calling themselves the Marijuana Justice Coalition, the group says legalization is now especially urgent in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide protests over police brutality. Given the current situation, "marijuana reform as a modest first step at chipping away at the war on drugs is more relevant and more pressing than ever before," they wrote in a letter to Congress.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Comes Up Short on Signatures. The campaign to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot has come up short on signatures. The North Dakota Freedom of Cannabis Act needed some 27,000 valid voter signatures by Wednesday, but had only 24,000 raw signatures to hand in. A second legalization initiative campaign, Legalize ND, came up short earlier. Now, both groups say they are aiming at 2022.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Hospitals Say IV Opioid Painkillers Running Short Amid Coronavirus Crisis Because of DEA Quota Policy. One of the biggest hospital groups in the country, Premier, Inc., is warning that intravenous painkillers are in short supply during the pandemic because of the DEA's restrictions on legal opioid production. As part of the federal government's response to the opioid epidemic, DEA has slashed the amount of opioids producers can manufacture over the past two years. That's made them harder to get for everyone, including hospitals. Unless the agency gives hospitals more access to IV painkillers, hospitals will keep running short of the medications needed to help ventilate coronavirus patients and sedate patients before surgery, Premier Inc. wrote in a Wednesday letter to the DEA.

Law Enforcement

DEA Participating in Federal Law Enforcement Surge Aimed at Big Cities. As part of the Trump administration's surge of federal law enforcement in cities including Albuquerque, Chicago, and Kansas City, the DEA will participate in what the feds are calling Operation Legend. "The surge of violent crime in many of our great American cities is unacceptable and cannot be left unchecked," said DEA Acting Administrator Timothy J. Shea. "DEA plays a vital role in combatting violent crime by targeting drug trafficking organizations who employ violence and intimidation to further their criminal enterprise. Violence is an essential element of drug trafficking. Our agents, working alongside our state, local, and federal counterparts, will bring additional resources and specialized investigative skills to help reduce violent crime plaguing so many communities." Shea did not address the role of drug prohibition in encouraging violence.

International

Mexican Human Rights Commission Says Military Abducted 27 People at Border in 2018, 12 Later Found Dead. The Mexican government's human rights commission said Tuesday that Mexican marines abducted 27 people in the border town of Nuevo Laredo in 2018 and that 12 of them were later found dead. The other 15 haven't been seen. The commission more broadly accused the marines of engaging in "illegal searches and arbitrary detentions." At the time, the military was engaged in running battles with the Zetas cartel. The commission issued non-binding recommendations that criminal investigations be opened and changes be made in Navy patrol procedures.

Mexican Border City Sees 26 Killings in 72 Hours. Chihuahua Attorney General Cesar Augusto Peniche said Wednesday that Ciudad Juarez had seen 26 homicides in the past 72 hours and that they can be attributed to a rapidly escalating war between rival gangs fighting for control of the city's drug franchise. The groups at war are the Aztecas and the La Empresa cartel. The latest killings bring the death toll to 969 so far this year in the city.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org.

MT Legalization Activists Say They've Qualified for Ballot, Mexican Cartel Shows Off Its Firepower, More... (7/20/20)

New Approach Montana says county-level data shows it has qualified a marijuana legalization initiative for the November ballot but the results aren't official yet, Canada's health minister says she's open to discussing drug decriminalization, and more.

The Jalisco New Generation Cartel released this video of a massive armed convoy last Friday. (screen grab)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Activists Say County Figures Show They Qualified for Ballot. New Approach Montana, the group behind the I-190 marijuana legalization initiative and the C-118 constitutional amendment to set the legal age for marijuana at 21, said last Friday that official county-level data shows they collected enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The claim is based on county-level signature verification data, as well as the campaign's own verification process. The group said it had 8,000 more valid signatures than the 25,000 required for the initiative and nearly 2,000 more valid signatures than the 51,000 required for the constitutional amendment.

Drug Policy

Third Party Presidential Candidates Embrace Marijuana Legalization, Drug Decriminalization. Both the Libertarian and Green Party presidential nominees are supporting bold drug policy proposals, including marijuana legalization. Neither Democratic nominee Joe Biden nor incumbent Republican Donald Trump have embraced marijuana legalization. Libertarian pick Jo Jorgensen and Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins both back legalizing marijuana for adult use and more broadly ending the criminalization of other currently illicit substances. "We've got to treat drug abuse as a health problem. You should legalize marijuana and decriminalize the hard drugs like Portugal," Hawkins said. "Instead of just throwing people in prison and building the biggest prison industrial system in the world -- which Joe Biden had a lot to do [with], he wrote the legislative architecture for that as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- we should be treating drug addiction as a health problem, not a criminal problem."

International

Canada Health Minister Open to Examining Drug Decriminalization. In response to a request from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Health Minister Patty Hadju said she was open to having discussions about drug decriminalization. "To find out how we would do that in the best possible way. I'm excited to explore all possibilities to reduce the criminalization of people who use substances," she said. "You know having been a person who worked in drug policy for a long time, I can tell you when you have the support of enforcement to take the next steps or affirm what you are doing, I think that's very important," Hajdu said.

Mexico Puts Army in Charge of Customs to Fight Drug Trade. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has announced that he is placing the Army in charge of Customs at land borders and seaports in a bid to stamp out large-scale corruption linked to the illicit drug trade. "We've taken this decision due to the poor administration of the seaports, with corruption and drug smuggling in these ports," he said. The move does not include the country's airports. Mexican seaports are entry points for precursor chemicals for heroin and methamphetamine manufacture.

Mexican Cartel Shows Off Its Firepower. In what is being described by analysts as a message to the Mexican government, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) released a video last Friday showing heavily-armed cartel members alongside a long, long convoy of armored vehicles. The video shows about 75 gunmen wearing military-style fatigues and at least 20 armored vehicles, some emblazoned with CJNG initials and "special forces" or "elite group." The video release came as President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was visiting Jalisco state.

(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.)

House Hearing on DC Entheogens Init, Colombia Drug Gangs Enforce Pandemic Lockdowns, More... (7/16/20)

A first congressional challenge to the Washington, DC, natural psychedelics initiative has been fended off, Mexico's toll of "disappeared" in drug violence in the past 14 years tops 70,000, and more.

ayahuasca-inspired art (CC)
Psychedelics

House Committee Takes Up DC Natural Psychedelics Initiative. The House Appropriations Committee, which has jurisdiction over affairs in Washington, DC, held a hearing Wednesday to debate the status of magic mushrooms in the nation's capital, as an initiative that would make natural psychedelics the lowest law enforcement priority appears set to make the November ballot. The day saw an amendment by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), a longtime foe of DC drug reform efforts, which would bar the use of natural psychedelics without a doctor's recommendation, but Harris then withdrew the amendment in the face of Democratic opposition. "If the district's residents want to make mushrooms a lower priority and focus limited law enforcement resources on other issues, that is their prerogative," said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL).

International

Colombia Drug Gangs, Armed Groups Are Killing Pandemic Lockdown Violators, Human Rights Watch Says. Armed groups tied to drug trafficking organizations have enforced their own lockdown orders and killed people who didn't comply, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch. The group has documented at least nine killings for breaking social distancing orders since April, as well as documented examples of armed groups threatening and attacking people who breaks the groups' lockdown rules. "In communities across Colombia, armed groups have violently enforced their own measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19," José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said in the report released Wednesday. "This abusive social control reflects the government's long-standing failure to establish a meaningful state presence in remote areas of the country, including to protect at-risk populations."

Mexico's Toll of Disappeared Rises Again. The number of people who have been "disappeared" in the prohibition-related violence ripping through Mexico has officially risen to 73,201, up from 61,000 in January. The vast majority of the disappearances have come since 2006, when the contemporary Mexican "war on drugs" began. In that same period, authorities have unearthed nearly 4,000 clandestine graves, with 6,625 bodies recovered.

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Won't Make Ballot, More Mexico Mayhem, More... (7/6/20)

Nevada's governor pushes for wholesale marijuana possession pardons, prohibition-related violence flares in Mexico, and more.

no reefer gladness for Arkansas this year (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Won't Qualify for Ballot. Melissa Fults, the main organizer behind the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment, has announced that the measure failed to come up with enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot by the state's July 3 deadline. "We're not going to make the ballot. COVID-19 killed it," she said. The campaign needed 89,000 valid voter signatures to qualify but had only 30,000-40,000 raw signatures by the deadline.

Nevada Governor Wants Pardons for Old Minor Marijuana Convictions. Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) announced late last week that he has placed a resolution for consideration on the Board of Pardons Commissioners agenda to provide relief to tens of thousands of people who were previously convicted for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The proposed resolution would unconditionally pardon individuals previously convicted of possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, not for purpose of sale. "The people of Nevada have decided that possession of small amounts of marijuana is not a crime," Gov. Sisolak said. "If approved, this resolution will clear the slate for thousands of people who bear the stigma of a conviction for actions that have now been decriminalized."

International

Mexican Soldiers Kill Dozen Cartel Gunmen in Nuevo Laredo Shootout. The Mexican Defense Department reported last Friday that soldiers patrolling the border city of Nuevo Laredo came under fire from gunmen in pickup trucks, then returned fire, killing 12. The department said three army trucks were hit by gunfire but no soldiers were injured. The area has been the site of prohibition-related violence for years, and the feds blamed the attack on the Cartel of the Northeast, a splinter from the old Zetas cartel. Meanwhile, police in the border state of Coahuila reported killing five cartel suspects after being fired on in the city of Torreon, and in Guanajuato state, armed men killed five state police officers and wounded two others.

Nashville to End Small-Time Pot Prosecutions, More Cops Charged in Wake of Fatal Houston Drug Raid, More... (7/2/20)

Drug reform initiative campaigns are handing in signatures as deadlines approach, Nashville's DA says no more petty pot prosecutions, Mexican gunmen kill 24 in a raid on a drug rehab center, and more.

South Dakota's Badlands. Organized opposition to a marijuana legalization initiative has appeared. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Turns in Massive Signature Cache. Backers of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act marijuana legalization initiative filed more than 420,000 raw signatures with the secretary of state's office Thursday. It only needs 237,465 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The initiative would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, allow for cultivation, distribution, and retail sales, and use tax revenues from those sales to fund public education and public safety programs.

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Draws Organized Opposition. The Amendment A marijuana legalization campaign, which has already qualified for the November ballot, is now drawing organized opposition. A ballot committee calling itself NO Way on Amendment A has been organized to defeat the initiative and is being led by David Own, the president of the state Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The opposition is being joined by the usual suspects, including law enforcement, public officials, and social work leaders.

Nashville to End Small-Time Marijuana Possession Prosecutions. Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk announced Wednesday that his office will no longer prosecute cases involving less than a half-ounce of marijuana. "Effective today, the Nashville District Attorney's office will no longer prosecute individuals for possession of less than a half ounce of marijuana. Marijuana charges do little to promote public health, and even less to promote public safety," Funk said in a statement.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, the group behind the state's proposed medical marijuana initiative, handed in some 182,000 raw voter signatures Thursday. They need at least 121,669 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The campaign must also meet a requirement that at least 5% of voters in at least 38 counties sign up.

Law Enforcement

Houston DA Files New Charges Resulting from Deadly Drug Raid. The investigation into a 2019 Houston drug raid that left two innocent homeowners dead has now resulted charges being filed against six former officers, who are accused of routinely using false information to get search warrants and of lying on police reports, prosecutors announced on Wednesday. Two former members of the unit -- Gerald Goines and Steven Bryant -- had previously been charged in state and federal court in the case, including two counts of felony murder filed in state court against Goines. Those two also got hit with numerous new charges. More than 160 drug convictions tied to Goines have been dismissed by prosecutors. Prosecutors expect more cases will be dismissed.

International

Mexican Cartel Gunmen Attack Drug Rehab Center, Killing 24. In one of the bloodiest attacks yet in the cartel wars, gunmen killed 24 people at a drug treatment center in the central Mexican city of Irapuato on Wednesday. It was the second attack on a rehab center in less than a month; on June 6, 10 were killed in a similar incident. Rival cartels sometimes use the centers as de facto bunk houses for their employees. The region is being flailed by fighting between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel.

NYPD Spent Almost $100 Million on Drug Enforcement Last Year, Mexico Cartel Violence, More... (6/26/20)

Mexico City's police chief narrowly escapes a cartel assassination attempt, the NYPD spent nearly $100 million enforcing the drug laws last year, and more.

Prohibition-related violence continues unabated in Mexico. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Michigan House Passes Bill Allowing Spouses of State Employees to Seek Medical Marijuana Licenses. The House has passed HB 5700, which would allow spouses of state employees to obtain licenses for medical marijuana businesses. The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

Drug Policy

NYPD Spent Nearly $100 Million Policing Drug Laws Last Year The New York Policy Department spent $96 million enforcing drug laws last year, according to a new report from the Drug Policy Alliance. It spent nearly another half-billion dollars enforcing low-level "broken windows" offenses, the report found. DPA released the brief in support of the Communities United for Police Reform coalition call for Mayor de Blasio and the NYC Council to cut the FY21 NYPD expense budget by $1 billion and redirect savings to core needs in Black, Latinx and other NYC communities of color that have long been the target of the drug war and racist policing.

Sentencing

Michigan Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Package Filed. In a bid to bring down the length of prison sentences in the state—which run nearly twice as long as in neighboring states—lawmakers have filed a bipartisan package of 15 bills aimed at cutting back sentence lengths.

International

Mexico City Police Chief Wounded in Assassination Attempt, Blames Drug Cartel. Mexico City Public Security Chief Omar Garcia Harfuch barely escaped a brazen daytime assassination attempt in the city's upscale Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood early Friday. Harfuch was struck by three bullets and two of his bodyguards were killed, as was a woman bystander. He later blamed the attack on the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

Mexican Cartel In-Fighting Leaves 15 Dead in Sinaloa. Clashes between gunmen linked to rival factions of the Sinaloa Cartel left 15 people dead in rural communities near the state capital of Culiacan on Wednesday. Seven men clad in body armor and brandishing assault rifles were killed in Tepuche, while eight more armed men were killed in Bagrecitos as they opened fire on homes and vehicles. The violence comes just a week after a convoy of pickup trucks ambushed and attacked navy marines on patrol. The violence is believed linked to a power struggle between the sons of imprisoned leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and forces loyal to Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who has led the cartel since Guzmán’s incarceration. 

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org.

Colombia After the Peace Accords: A Conversation with Vanda Felbab-Brown [FEATURE]

Four years ago, Colombia's decades-long civil war officially came to an end when the leftist rebels of the FARC signed a peace agreement with then-President Juan Manuel Santos. The accord envisioned the demobilization of the FARC as a military force and the use of alternative development to wean peasant farmers from their coca crops and end the country's reputation as a cocaine capital.

Colombian peasant harvesting the coca crop. (DEA.gov)
Four years on, it is probably unfair to call the peace deal a failure, but it hasn't exactly produced the hoped-for results. President Santos completed his term and was replaced by rightist Ivan Duque, who is much less enthusiastic about the accords and whose administration has lagged at implementing the alternative development provisions of the peace deal.

The FARC did demobilize, but last year, after at least 139 FARC members who had laid down their guns were murdered, dissident FARC leaders announced they were rejoining the path of armed struggle, taking several thousand fighters with them. In taking up arms once again, the FARC dissidents rejoined a vicious, multi-sided fight for control of the cocaine trade that never went away. That fight includes gangs from across the border in Venezuela, rightist paramilitary bandas, two different factions of the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN), the Colombian military, and at least two major Mexican drug cartels, Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation.

Efforts under Duque to cut coca and cocaine production have not worked. With Duque's government only grudgingly supporting crop substitution and rural development programs that are broadly considered more effective, instead promoting forced eradication, Colombian cocaine production hit a record high last year.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration now views Colombia less as a principal ally in the region and more as a chess piece to be used against the Venezuelan regime of Nicholas Maduro. When it comes to the issue of coca and cocaine, the administration has taken a hard line that harkens back to the days of Plan Colombia. This year, Trump has demanded that Columbia resume spraying of coca crops, proposed an assistance package that slashes economic development aid while nearly doubling anti-drug funding, and deployed a US army brigade to Colombia on a drug-fighting mission.

This week, Drug War Chronicle got on the phone with Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow in the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution. She is the co-director of the Brookings series on opioids: "The Opioid Crisis in America: Domestic and International Dimensions." Previously, she was the co-director of the Brookings project, "Improving Global Drug Policy: Comparative Perspectives Beyond UNGASS 2016," as well as of another Brookings project, "Reconstituting Local Orders." Felbab-Brown is an expert on international and internal conflicts and nontraditional security threats, including insurgency, organized crime, urban violence, and illicit economies. Her fieldwork and research have covered, among others, Afghanistan, South Asia, Burma, Indonesia, the Andean region, Mexico, Morocco, Somalia, and eastern Africa. She is a senior advisor to the congressionally mandated Afghanistan Peace Process Study Group.

Here's what she had to say:

On the disappointing results of the 2016 accord:

"The peace deal was significant, but produced incomplete results," said Felbab-Brown. "One reason is that non-state actors persisted. The other reason is that the Duque government doesn't like that deal, so it has a policy of death by a thousand cuts, doing the minimum necessary to appear to comply with the law produced by the peace deal while really doing very little."

"The deal was extremely optimistic both in process and in implementation," she argued, pointing to the example of Thailand, where some 30,000 acres of opium poppies were being grown in the 1960s and even with a highly sustained commitment from the Thai monarchy, it took 30 years to end the practice.

"That's only one-tenth of the issue Colombia struggles with," she noted. "The idea that peace would eliminate coca production was unrealistic, but it was necessary to sell the peace plan to the public. People thought that if there was coca, the fighting would persist. And the need to sell it to the United Nations meant people had to emphasize it as part of alternative development."

"Development was the right policy stress, but it was unhampered by a realistic assessment of how long it would take, how much coca would persist untampered by a realistic assessment of how long it would take and how much coca would persist. A fundamental difficulty for Colombia, among others, is that the resources of the state to do rural development and create alternative livelihoods are quite limited."

"The notion that everyone would be asked to get rid of their coca to go through the compensation process created the mess we are seeing now," she said. "Even if it was not possible to bring in enough resources to accomplish this at the national level, it was worsened by Duque's dislike of the policy and his slowing down of rural development efforts. But it still wasn't going to happen in three years of payments and then no more coca. They've tried that about 20 times before, and it always crashed. There's no reason to believe this would be any different."

On the Trump administration's Colombia policy:

Brookings scholar Vanda Felbab-Brown (Brookings.edu)
"The Trump administration has been back to the 1980s with a rigid, doctrinaire view centered on supply-side policies," she observed. "That said, it has come up with some surprising mutations that you wouldn't expect from a regular Republican administration, as when in 2017 it threatened to decertify Colombia as not living up to US-imposed drug fighting objectives. Republicans were consternated, and so were the Colombians, who expected that Trump would be close to Duque. Trump likes rightist governments and a heavy military emphasis. The administration has been weak dealing with the opioid crisis at home and focused on heavy eradication in Colombia. And Trump has really degraded Colombia. Previous administrations saw it as a principle ally and partner in South America, but Trump views Colombia principally as a platform against Venezuela."

"Trump has two objectives in Colombia: Venezuela and drugs," Felbab-Brown said. "On the drug side, he wants aerial spraying with US contractors. It depends on the day or the month whether drugs or Venezuela is first on the agenda, but Venezuela tends to dominate."

Whether the Trump administration can bend the Colombian government to a deeper role in its anti-Maduro machinations remains to be seen, but that may be a dead end now, anyway, Felbab-Brown said.

"Coca kind of competes with Trump's focus on Colombia as a source of policies against Venezuela, and while Duque is more forward leading in that regard than former president Santos, he realizes he can't risk war or meltdown in Venezuela," she said. "So they've been trying to satisfy Trump without causing a real blowup without any real strategy. After that Guaido stunt with the food aid, both the US and Colombia have been left without any kind of way forward."

On best policies moving forward:

If she were advising the Colombian and US governments, Felbab-Brown said, she would emphasize consolidating the zonas de futuro, where the Duque government is trying to introduce a government presence in five abandoned regions where armed groups and drug trafficking flourish, making up less than three percent of the national territory, instead of worrying about coca eradication.

The "future zones" are Colombia's bid to exert sovereign control over ungoverned parts of its territory. (fupad.org)
"A key line of effort would be to think through how the zonas could be made viable, how best to maximize the policy engagement in the zonas and how to expand them. A key problem with earlier versions of this strategy is that if you succeed, you end up with patches of government presence unconnected to anything else. They need to be made contiguous and connected," she argued.

"I would not care about eradication that much," Felbab-Brown said. "Although it would be unrealistic for a US administration to say that, it could strongly suggest it is not our metric. While Congress can put on pressure for more eradication, I would try to think about where it doesn't cause too much harm to the objective of stabilization. Much of the thinking in both governments is that eradication enhances stability, but it actually hampers it," she said.

"Instead, think about progress in reducing violence in strategic areas. How can we minimize the presence of the bandas, the Venezuelan groups, the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels, both of whom are active in Colombia? How can we neuter them or push them out? This is what I would be thinking."

"At a broader strategic level, I would try to persuade Duque to make a much greater effort in rural development and equity, all that. We'll never make Duque into Santos, but perhaps a better version of himself.

On legalization as a solution:

Felbab-Brown was leery of legalization as a solution.

"It's a fantasy in terms of feasibility," she said. "Who is going to legalize cocaine? Not even Switzerland or the Netherlands would go there. And I'm not persuaded it would address the reasons why Colombia is so violent. If you legalized the coca crop, what is the guarantee that these same actors wouldn't be able to get their hands on the coca fields?" she asked.

"There is also a big fallacy in believing that violent actors have control because the commodities are illegal," she argued. "If anything, the conflict isn't just about coca, but timber, gold, and rare minerals -- all legal commodities. These non-state actors are deeply involved in those economies, the dissident groups are interested in the diversification of their portfolios. In Choco, for instance, where there is some of the most intense fighting, some of it is about coca, but more of it is about control of timber and the port. The FARC dissidents, the bandas, the ELN, Sinaloa and Jalisco, they're all there."

"The issue is not fundamentally about whether the commodity is legal or not. Look at the fighting over avocados in Mexico. You can argue for legalizing marijuana or poppies, but legality or illegality is not the crux of the issue. If Mexico wants to legalize poppies, it needs to fix its collapsed law enforcement first."

[Ed: Our organization's view is that global drug prohibition drives up the value and prices for coca and its derivatives, generating tremendous profits for criminal organizations, which get reinvested in other areas of crime and which contribute to their ability to influence political systems. If it would be impossible to secure licit coca grows in Colombia from being taken over by bad actors, another option would be to establish competing operations in other countries with stronger legal systems, providing coca and its derivatives for less than the crime organizations do. We do recognize that transitions between systems have the potential to go wrong, and we don't expect legalization to solve every problem that's become intertwined with prohbition.]

US Deploys Air Force Planes to Curacao in Anti-Drug Effort, Israel Moves Closer to Pot Legalization, More... (6/22/20)

Georgia Senate Democrats have filed a police reform bill that includes marijuana decriminalization, the US is ramping up anti-drug operations near Venezuela, Israel takes a step toward marijuana legalization, and more.

With a Knesset committee vote, Israel takes another step toward marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Georgia Police Reform Bill Includes Marijuana Decriminalization. Georgia Senate Democrats have filed the Georgia Justice Act, which covers a wide range of issues such as police body cameras, no-knock warrants, racial profiling, demilitarizing law enforcement and cannabis policy reform. It also includes a plank calling for marijuana decriminalization, under which possession of up to a half ounce would be a misdemeanor punishable by only a $300 fine. Under current state law, possession is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Bill Would Require Police to Prove Actual Impairment Before Charging Medical Marijuana Patients With DUI. A Republican state senator, Camera Bartolotta, has filed a bill aimed at protecting medical marijuana patients from being prosecuted for driving under the influence. The bill does so by exempting patients from the state's DUI law, which requires only the presence of marijuana metabolites to garner a DUI ticket. Instead, police would have to prove that the patient driver is actually impaired.

Foreign Policy

US Air Force Deploying Planes to Curacao in Ramped Up Anti-Drug Operation. The US Southern Command announced last Friday that four US Air Force planes will be deployed to Curacao, a Caribbean island nation just 40 miles off the coast of Venezuela, for counter-narcotics operations. An E-3 Sentry surveillance plane and an E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System plane, supported by two KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft, will fly detection and monitoring missions in international airspace, Pentagon officials said. The move is meant to "help U.S. and international law enforcement authorities disrupt and defeat transnational criminal organizations trafficking illegal narcotics in the region," the Southern Command said. The deployment will involve about 200 US personnel at the Cooperative Security Location, a complex used for regional training in counterterrorism and drug interdiction, in Williamstad, Curacao. The move comes several weeks after the Trump administration accused the Venezuelan government of being involved in drug trafficking.

International

Israel Knesset Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bills. The Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday approved a pair of marijuana legalization bills that would legalize marijuana possession and consumption by adults 21 and over. This is only the first step on a process in which the bills must be discussed in committee and then approved at least three times by the full Knesset.

Mexican President Says He Ordered Freeing of El Chapo's Son to Prevent Bloodshed. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador acknowledged last Friday that he personally ordered the release of one of imprisoned Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's sons after he was captured by the military last fall in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa. "I ordered that this operation be stopped and that this presumed criminal be freed," he said, adding that he acted to prevent a slaughter. The capture of Ovidio Guzman Lopez resulted in hours-long gun battles and cartel roadblocks in Culiacan, leaving at least 14 people dead. The violence didn't end until the son was released. “If we hadn’t suspended [the operation] more than 200 innocent people … would have lost their lives,” the president said.

US Rep Calls for Drug Decriminalization, Prohibition-Related Violence in Colombia and Mexico, More... (6/11/20)

South Dakota marijuana activists launch their election campaign this week, Nevada's governor proposes mass pardons for small time pot possession charges, Michigan's governor signs a roadside drug testing bill into law, and more.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) is calling for drug decriminalization as part of a police accountability plan. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada Governor Proposes Pardons for Minor Marijuana Convictions. Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) announced Thursday that he will propose a plan to pardon tens of thousands of people convicted on minor marijuana possession charges before the state legalized the drug in 2017. "The people of Nevada have decided that possession of small amounts of marijuana is not a crime," the governor said. "If approved, this resolution will clear the slate for thousands of people who bear the stigma of a conviction for actions that have now been decriminalized."

South Dakota Marijuana Advocates Kick Off Campaign for Both Legalization and Medical Marijuana Initiatives. With both a marijuana legalization initiative, Constitutional Amendment A, and a medical marijuana initiative, Initiated Measure 26, already qualified for the ballot, marijuana activists kicked off their election season campaign to get them both approved in November. If both were approved by voters, the state would become the first to legalize both recreational and medical marijuana on the same day.

Drug Policy

Oregon US Congressman Calls for Drug Decriminalization as Part of Policing Reform Plan. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) released a police accountability plan on Tuesday that includes proposals to legalize marijuana and decriminalize other drugs to reduce over-policing of communities of color. "Reducing police interactions by using non-law enforcement to deal with minor crimes and activities, and repealing punitive drug laws could reduce the criminalization and over-policing of communities of color," the plan states. "We need to rethink the way police are used and encourage alternative policing models that address institutional racism as they are being created." Such a plan would include repealing "policies that incentivize over-policing of communities of color, including the prohibition of cannabis and the decriminalization of other drugs."

Drug Testing

Michigan Governor Signs Roadside Drug Testing Pilot Program Bill. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday signed into law Senate Bill 718, which establishes a statewide pilot program for roadside drug testing for drivers. The test will use saliva to detect the presence of amphetamines, benzodiazepines, cannabis (delta 9 THC), cocaine, methamphetamines and opiates.

International

Colombia's Coca-Growing Cauca Department Wracked with Violence. Armed groups fighting over control over the coca and cocaine trade have been engaging in targeted assassinations and gun battles in southwestern Cauca department. Dissident members of the FARC, which laid down its arms as part of a 2016 peace accord, have been going after their former comrades, while different factions of the National Liberation Army (ELN) clashed with each other. Meanwhile, the targeted killings of social leaders and activists have also continued, with more than 40 killed in the department so far this year.

Mexico's Guanajuato State Hammered by Weekend of Cartel Violence. Nearly three dozen people were killed in a spate of drug gang killings in the central industrial state of Guanajuato over the weekend. In the deadliest single incident, a group of gunmen attacked a drug rehabilitation center in Irapauto and killed 10 people. The violence is linked to a bloody turf war between the Jalisco Cartel and the local Santa Rosa de Lima gang.

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