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Chronicle AM: Bolivia's Coca Grower President Forced Out, AOC Calls for Psychedelic Decrim, More... (11/12/19)

Evo Morales, the former coca grower union leader who became president of Bolivia, has been forced from power; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calls for the decriminalization of psychedelics, and more.

Evo Morales. He broke with the US drug war in South American and lifted millions of Bolivians out of poverty. Now, he's gone.
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Legislature Seeks Dismissal of Governor's Marijuana Regulation Lawsuit. Attorneys for the state legislature last Friday filed motions to dismiss Gov. Gina Raimondo's (D) lawsuit challenging a state law that grants the General Assembly veto power over new hemp and medical marijuana regulations. The attorneys argued that "it makes little sense" for the lawsuit to continue because the law is slated to be repealed. Raimondo argues that the legislature's move violates the separation of powers provisions in the state constitution that give the executive branch sole power over adoption of regulations and issuance of licenses for the marijuana industry.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Will See Medical Marijuana Bill Next Year. The state's Medical Marijuana Commission, which was charged with developing medical marijuana legislation, says it will be ready to introduce a medical marijuana bill in the next legislative session. The deadline for the commission's bill to be filed is December 1.

Psychedelics

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Calls for Decriminalizing Psychedelics. In a video message to the Drug Policy Alliance's biennial drug reform conference last Thursday, Rep. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) called for decriminalizing the use of and research on psychedelics. She also called for federal marijuana legalization. "I’m very thankful to have been working with the Drug Policy Alliance throughout this year to introduce and work on several different amendments and pieces of legislation to make our lives better," Ocasio-Cortez said. "That includes things like moving money out of the DEA and into overdose treatment programs, as well as really examining some of the ways that we can also decriminalize the use and study of psychedelic compounds for medicinal applications and future policies.".”

Foreign Policy

ONDCP Releases Data on Coca Cultivation and Production Potential in Bolivia. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has released US government annual estimates of coca cultivation and potential cocaine production for Bolivia. It finds that Bolivia remains the third largest producer of cocaine after Peru and Colombia, and that coca cultivation increased 6% last year, boosting potential cocaine production by 2%. The area under cultivation was 50% over the limit set for legal cultivation by the Bolivian government.

International

Bolivia's Coca Grower President Ousted, Flees to Mexico. Long-time Bolivian leader Evo Morales, a former coca growers union leader who won the presidency in 2005 and was re-elected twice has been forced from office and fled the country after extended protests in the wake of disputed elections last week. Morales resigned after he lost the support of the military, which called on him to resign on Saturday. 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, but began to lose support after ignoring a referendum calling on him not to run again, and chaos escalated after an unexplained 24-hour delay in vote-counting before he was declared the victor.

Chronicle AM: Feds Allow States to Drug Test for Unemployment, FL Marijuana Initiative, More... (10/4/19)

The Trump administration allows states to demand drug tests for laid off workers seeking unemployment benefits, a Florida marijuana legalization initiative's signature gathering campaign is off to a fast start, and more.

Coca production is spiking along the Peru-Bolivia border. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Initiative Already Has 100,000 Signatures. Make It Legal Florida, the group behind one of two state marijuana legalization initiatives, is fast out of the gate. The group reported that it has gathered 100,000 raw signatures in the first 20 days of signature gathering. According to state law, a petition must undergo a Florida Supreme Court review before it can even be considered, and that can be done only after 76,632 valid voter signatures have been collected. To actually qualify for the 2020 ballot, the group will need 766,000 valid voter signatures by February.

Drug Testing

Trump Administration Okays Rule Allowing States to Demand Drug Tests for Unemployment Benefits. The Department of Labor published a new rule Friday that will allow states to force more laid off workers to submit drug tests in order to receive benefits. The move reverses Obama administration policies, and allows states to demand drug tests from laid off workers who work for companies that normally require job applicants to pass drug tests.

California Governor Vetoes Bill to Expand Drug Testing in Fatal Traffic Accidents. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has vetoed Assembly Bill 551, which would have required drug tests to be performed after every fatal accident in the state. State law already requires mandatory testing for alcohol. The bill had passed unanimously in both houses, but Newsom said that county coroners already had the authority to conduct drug testing.

International

Coca Crops Surge Amid Security Vacuum on Peru-Bolivia Border. Coca planting is spiking near a national park on the Bolivia-Peru border, with nearly 25,000 acres of plantings reported this year, a fourfold increase from 2017. The local coca boom is causing a dramatic population increase in the area, which suffers from disintegrating security and a shift in cocaine smuggling from Bolivia from airplanes to moving drugs by land.

Chronicle AM: House MJ Banking Bill Vote Next Week, Guatemala Now a Cocaine Producer, More... (9/20/19)

The House prepares to vote on a marijuana banking bill, New Hampshire lawmakers override a veto to ensure patients can grow their own, Guatemala concedes it is now a cocaine-producing nation, and more.

Cocaine -- it's not just from South America anymore. (US CBP)
Marijuana Policy

House Will Vote on Marijuana Banking Bill Next Week. The House leadership confirmed Friday that the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act (HR 1595) will get a House floor vote next week. The move comes with support from financial institutions, but over the objections of advocacy groups who want to see broader marijuana reforms advance before those catering to the industry alone.

Senate Funding Bill Would Again Block DC Marijuana Legalization. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Financial Services and General Government funding bill for FY 2020 and again included a provision that blocks Washington, DC, from using its own money to implement a legal marijuana sales regime.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Legislature Overrides Veto on Patient Home Grows. The state Senate joined the House Thursday in overriding Gov. Chris Sununu's (R) veto of HB 364, which would allow qualified patients to grow up to three mature plants and 12 seedlings.

Wisconsin Lawmakers Announce Bipartisan Medical Marijuana Bill. Sens. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point), Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison) have announced a bipartisan bill to introduce legalized medical cannabis in Wisconsin. The bill "recognizes that people should not have to engage in a criminal act to access medicine for debilitating conditions," they said.

International

Guatemala Joins Ranks of Cocaine Producers. Guatemalan Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart conceded Thursday that the country is now a full-fledged cocaine producer after security forces there uncovered several coca plantations and processing laboratories. Guatemala has long been a major transit country for cocaine, and traffickers have exercised influence over political parties and in some cases territorial control. The country has made little progress fighting the drug war. "Following the discovery of these narco-laboratories and the different fields with the coca plants, Guatemala now becomes a cocaine producer and that puts Guatemala in a totally different situation with respect to regional security," Degenhart said.

Chronicle AM: Mexico Court Okays Personal Cocaine Use, Elizabeth Warren Criminal Justice Policy, More... (8/21/19)

Elizabeth Warren rolls out her criminal justice and drug policy platform, a Mexico City court rules that two petitioners can legally possess and use cocaine, and more.

A court in Mexico City has ruled that two petitioners can legally use cocaine, but it's not a done deal yet. (Pixabay)
Criminal Justice

Elizabeth Warren Unveils Criminal Justice Platform. Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential contender Elizabeth Warren has rolled out her criminal justice platform aimed at rethinking public safety to reduce mass incarceration and strengthen communities. She is calling for the repeal of the 1994 crime bill, investments in diversion programs for people with substance abuse issues, as well as supporting safe injection sites and needle exchange programs. Warren would also legalize marijuana and expunge past convictions and eliminate the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. In planks aimed at the decriminalization of poverty, she would end cash bail, restrict pre-trial fines and fees, and eliminate expensive fees for prisoners, such as for phone calls and bank transfers.

Harm Reduction

Illinois Governor Signs Bill Legalizing Needle Exchanges Statewide. Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) has signed into law a bill that legalizes needle exchange programs throughout the state. The state currently only has six exchanges, three of which are in Chicago. Under the new law, individuals and groups that meet state criteria can establish needle exchange programs under the supervision of the Department of Public Health.

International

Mexico Court Allows Personal Cocaine Use in Landmark Decision. A judge in Mexico City has ruled in favor of two people seeking permission to use cocaine non-medically. The decision is now being reviewed by a higher court at the government's request. The ruling allows the petitioners to "possess, transport, and use cocaine" but not sell it. The case was backed by Mexico United Against Crime, which is dedicated to ending drug prohibition in the country. The ruling actually came in May, but only came to light after the country's national health regulator, which was ordered to authorize the use, instead moved to block it, saying such an authorization would be outside its legal remit. If upheld, the ruling would only apply to the two petitioners, but Mexico United said it would be a building block toward proving that "prohibition has failed and alternative approaches can work better."

(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: Outside Lands Festival to Allow Pot, Colombia Cocaine Conflicts Creating Refugees, More... (8/9/19)

There will be legal pot smoking at Outside Lands in San Francisco this weekend, the Trump administration moves forward with plans to allow drug testing of unemployment recipients, fighting over coca farms and cocaine smuggling routes in Colombia is generating large refugee flows, and more.

Prohibition-related violence in Colombia's cocaine trade is generating tens of thousands of refugees. (Pixelbay)
Marijuana Policy

Outside Lands Becomes First Major US Music Festival to (Officially) Allow Marijuana. San Francisco's Outside Lands music festival, set for this weekend, will allow marijuana sales and consumption, making it the largest music festival of its size to do so. Some 200,000 people attended last year. Final approval from the state Bureau of Cannabis Control came on Wednesday.

Medical Marijuana

DC Will Now Accept Medical Marijuana Cards from Any State. In a press release Thursday, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced that the District will now accept medical marijuana cards from any US state. "Non-residents needing their medication while they are visiting the District will be able to patronize the District's regulated marijuana dispensaries and obtain their medication," the press release said. Previously, the District recognized 19 other states' medical cards. Now, at least 27 states' cards will be recognized by the District's dispensaries.

Drug Testing

Labor Department Rule to Allow States to Drug Test Unemployment Recipients Now Under Review at White House. The White House budget office is reviewing a final Department of Labor rule that would allow states to drug test unemployment insurance recipients. The rule would allow states to drug test applicants in occupations where the employer "regularly conducts drug testing."

International

Colombia Cocaine Trade Fighting Generates Tens of Thousands of Refugees. According to a new report from Human Rights Watch, illegal armed groups fighting for control over the lucrative cocaine trade have forced some 40,000 people to flee their homes in the country's Catatumbo region near the Venezuelan border. The groups are fighting over territory armed by the former leftist guerillas of the FARC, who laid down their arms in a peace accord in 2016. The three groups named by Human Rights Watch are the Popular Liberation Army, the National Liberation Army, and a small group of FARC dissidents. Human Rights Watch accused the Colombian government of "not meeting its obligations" to protect civilians in the area.

Why Are Meth- and Cocaine-Related Overdose Deaths on the Increase? [FEATURE]

August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day, overdoseday.com
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released provisional data indicating that the country's overdose crisis peaked in late 2017 and actually declined by 5.1 percent between then and late 2018. While that is long-awaited good news, it's not great news: The annual number of drug overdose deaths was still more than 68,000, and that number is still more than a third higher than in 2014, when the overdose epidemic was already well underway.

The fever may have broken, but the patient is still in critical condition. And there is one bit of data in the CDC report that is definitely not good news: While overall overdose deaths finally began to decline, overdose deaths involving stimulants were on the increase. For cocaine, the death toll started rising in about 2012; for psychostimulants (overwhelmingly methamphetamine), the climb began a couple of years earlier.

But the new data show a dramatic uptick in overdose deaths with stimulant involvement last year. Fatal overdoses where cocaine was mentioned were up 34 percent and those where methamphetamine was involved were up 37 percent. That's more than 14,000 people dying with cocaine in their systems and more than 10,000 dying with meth in their systems.

What is driving this spike in stimulant-involved overdose deaths? Some of it can be attributed to rising use levels for cocaine and meth, which can in turn be linked to increased supplies. Meth seizures were up dramatically last year and recent DEA reports suggest that cocaine availability has increased steadily since 2012, particularly in the south and east coast of the US. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime suggests that cocaine production and manufacture are at the highest rates ever recorded.

"There is some research to suggest that we are seeing slightly higher rates of recent cocaine and methamphetamine use compared to rates of use just a few years ago," said Sheila Vakharia, PhD, a researcher with the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "But increased rates of use do not always mean increased rates of addiction or overdose. Death rates are influenced by a variety of factors, including age of the user, the amount used, and other substances used, among other things."

They are also influenced by race, gender, and geographic location. A recent study looking at data from 2012 to 2015 and examining race and gender trends by drug found that white men had the highest rates of methamphetamine-involved overdose deaths more generally, while black men had highest rates of cocaine-involved overdose deaths. These racial differences persisted for women of each race as well, although their overdose rates were lower than the men in their racial groups.

"Methamphetamine-involved deaths are high on the West Coast and Midwest, while cocaine-involved deaths are high on the East Coast. We are actually seeing that in some Western states that methamphetamine is either the top drug involved in overdose deaths or among the top drugs included in overdose deaths," Vakharia noted.

"Based on the latest CDC data, Nevada’s overdose crisis has been driven by prescription opioids and methamphetamine for the past several years- in fact, methamphetamine has been the #1 drug involved in overdoses there since November 2016. Similarly, in November 2016, Oregon saw methamphetamine become the top drug involved in overdose deaths," she specified.

"Meanwhile, the East Coast is seeing the involvement of cocaine in overdoses increase as well. While no eastern state has cocaine driving their overdose crisis, places like DC are seeing fentanyl as the top driver of deaths followed by cocaine. Last year, while fentanyl contributed to the majority of overdose deaths, there were more cocaine-involved deaths than heroin or prescription opioids," Vakharia added.

It appears that it is not rising simulant use rates but the use of multiple substances that is largely driving the overall stimulant death toll upwards. A CDC report from May suggests that, from 2003 to 2017, almost three-quarters of cocaine-involved deaths involved an opioid while half of all methamphetamine involved deaths involved an opioid.

"Those CDC numbers are based on autopsy reports," said Daniel Raymond, deputy director of planning and policy for the Harm Reduction Coalition (HRC). "In a lot of cases, there are multiple drugs involved, and just because an overdose involves a stimulant, it doesn't mean it was caused by stimulants."

Overdose deaths caused by stimulants look different from those caused by opioids, Raymond noted: "Fatal stimulant overdoses come from strokes, seizures, heart attacks, and potentially overheating," he said. "It's not like an opioid overdose with respiratory depression," he said.

"Some of this may be more a reflection that we still have lots of people dying from opioid-related overdoses, and it's just that more of them are also taking meth or cocaine, but the primary cause of death is the respiratory depression associated with opioid overdoses. In a lot of the cocaine deaths, medical examiners are finding both cocaine and opioids."

"We are seeing that toxicology reports of people who died with stimulants in their systems also had fentanyl or other opioids in their system," DPA's Vakharia concurred. She then listed a number of possible explanations:

  1. "This is accidental. Cross-contamination of a stimulant with an opioid like fentanyl could have been accidental and occurred during transport or packaging, and opioid-naïve stimulant users were accidentally exposed to opioid-contaminated stimulants."
  2. "This is due to co-use of opioids and stimulants in the form of speedballs (with cocaine) or goofballs (with methamphetamine), where both are used together for the desired effect of immediately stimulating high, followed by the euphoria of the opioid."
  3. "Stimulants are being willfully adulterated with opioids by suppliers/sellers, and stimulant users naïve to opioids are overdosing because they have no tolerance. (We at DPA dispute this theory, because it makes little sense why a seller would want to kill off a customer.)
  4. "Someone might have used a stimulant and opioids at different times within the past few days, but their toxicology could be showing the recency of use."

What Is to Be Done?

The Drug Policy Alliance and the Harm Reduction Coalition have both released reports on the rise in stimulant-involved overdose deaths, Stimulant Use: Harm Reduction, Treatment, and Future Directions from the former and Cocaine, Speed, and "Overdose": What Should We Be Doing? from the latter. Raymond and Vakharia took a few minutes to address those topics, too.

"There is no naloxone for stimulant overdose," Raymond pointed out. To reduce those overdoses "is about developing harm reduction strategies and outreach specifically targeting stimulant users," he said. "We spend so much time focusing on the opioid overdose crisis that our messages are oriented toward that. If we want to start a conversation, we need to not just tack it onto the opioid messaging. Even if you're not an opioid user, we want to talk about symptoms and warning signs."

HRC has moved in that direction, said Raymond. "We did some work on stimulant overdoses, we talked to a lot of people who used stimulants, we put out a guide -- Stimulant "Overamping”"Basics -- and went with the terms people used. Using 'overamping' opened a space for conversation for people who didn't identify as heroin users. If you talk overamping instead of overdosing, stimulant users have had that experience of using too much. Part of it is really just listening to the people who use the drugs. In harm reduction, we learn from the people we work with."

"People who use stimulants need access to sterile equipment beyond syringes, since many stimulant users smoke, so we are talking about sterile smoking equipment like pipes and filters," Vakharia said. "We need to teach users how to stay safe while using -- make sure to take breaks for hydration and to eat, get enough rest. It is easy to lose track of time when you've been up for days and when you have no appetite. This also puts undue stress on your heart and can exacerbate health issues," she noted.

"For many people, we should also talk about distributing safer sex supplies, because many people engage in risky sexual practices while they are using," Vakharia continued. "We also need to educate users on the risks associated with mixing different classes of drugs and the impact it can have on your body, knowing your limits, keeping naloxone on hand in case you are using opioids too, and not using alone."

It's not just harm reduction that's needed, though. Other policy prescriptions could help reduce the toll.

"Medicaid expansion and policies to increase access to basic health care and mental health care, as well as substance use treatment can greatly improve the health and well-being of people who use all drugs," Vakharia said. "And whether opioids are a person's primary drug or not, expanding access to naloxone helps anyone who is using them. Similarly, expanding Good Samaritan laws that reduce barriers to calling 911 can only help."

And then there's not treating drug uses like criminals.

"Decriminalizing drugs and paraphernalia would be a huge step forward," said Vakharia. "We know that contact with the criminal justice system increases harms and also presents barriers to going into recovery, which impacts job prospects, the ability to find work, and things like that."

"Drug decriminalization is crucial," said Raymond. "Criminalization just makes everything worse. It makes people more fearful of seeking help, and ends up locking so many people up in ways such that when they leave jail or prison, they're even more vulnerable. All of our work in harm reduction takes place in this context of mass criminalization. That keeps us swimming against the tide."

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of both Drug Reporter and Drug War Chronicle.

Chronicle AM: Malaysia Moves Toward Drug Decriminalization, Cocaine Production at Record High, More... (6/28/19)

In a dramatic change of course, Malaysia is moving toward drug decriminalization; the UN says cocaine production hit an all-time high in 2017, Cory Booker files a bill to protect immigrants with marijuana convictions, and more.

Sen. Cory Booker has filed a bill to protect immigrants from being deported for marijuana offenses. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Cory Booker Files Bill to Protect Immigrants from Being Deported for Marijuana. Democratic presidential contender and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker filed a bill Thursday that would bar the US from deporting immigrants and denying citizenship to people convicted of marijuana offenses. More than 34,000 people were deported for marijuana offenses between 2012 and 2017, according to Human Rights Watch. The bill is the Remove Marijuana from Deportable Offenses Act. It is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Congressional Bill Would Allow Marijuana Imports and Exports Between Legal States. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) on Thursday filed a bill to allow states to legally export and import marijuana. The bill would allow states that have legalized marijuana to enter into mutual agreements to engage in interstate pot commerce. "As more and more states legalize cannabis, the gap between state and federal laws will only grow more confusing for both legal businesses and consumers," Wyden said in a press release.
The solution is clear: the federal government needs to end its senseless and out of touch prohibition. As we fight for that ultimate goal, however, Congress can and should immediately act to protect the will of Oregonians and voters in other states from federal interference -- and that should include interstate cannabis commerce," he said. Read the text of the bill here.

California Legislature Approves Bill Extending Provisional Permits. The Assembly voted 57-11 Thursday to approve Assembly Bill 97, which will extend the lifespan of provisional business licenses for marijuana operations until 2022. Since the measure passed the Senate on Monday, the bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who is expected to sign it. The measure is a bid to bolster the state's flagging legal marijuana industry.

Harm Reduction

New Jersey to Allow Paramedics to Initiate Buprenorphine. State Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal signed an executive order this week that will allow paramedics to administer buprenorphine, an opioid addiction medication. The aim is to encourage people who have been administered naloxone to reverse an opioid overdose to go right to buprenorphine in the wake of the overdose recovery. Buprenorphine is considered the gold standard for opioid treatment drugs.

International

UN Says Cocaine Production at Record Levels in 2017. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Thursday that cocaine production jumped 13% in 2017 to 1,275 tons, the largest quantity ever reported. Although Colombia accounts for about 70% of total production, output was also increasing in both Bolivia and Peru. Colombian cocaine manufacture has quadrupled between 2013 and 2017.

Malaysia Moving Toward Drug Decriminalization. Malaysia plans to drop criminal penalties for the use and possession of small amounts of drugs, Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said Thursday. The country currently has some of the world's toughest penalties for drug possession and more than 1,200 prisoners on death row, most for drug offenses. Less than half a pound of marijuana can merit a death sentence under current law. Ahmad said drug addiction is a complex, relapsing medical condition and throwing an addict into jail will not cure him. "Drug decriminalization will indeed be a critical next step toward achieving a rational drug policy that puts science and public health before punishment and incarceration," Dzulkefly said. "An addict shall be treated as a patient, not as a criminal, whose addiction is a disease we would like to cure."

(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: Marijuana Descheduling Bill Filed, Model West African Drug Law Presented, More... (5/22/19)

A federal marijuana descheduling bill picks up some cosponsors who want to be president, the California Senate approves a bill to allow special banks to deal with state-legal pot businesses, the drug czar announces a new initiative, and more.

There is getting to be an awful lot of marijuana bills floating around the Capitol these days. Now, there's one more. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Four Democratic Presidential Contenders Sign on to Federal Descheduling Bill. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) are all cosponsors of companion marijuana rescheduling bills filed Monday by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). The bills would remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act and use some funds from marijuana taxes to help socially disenfranchised individuals find a role in the legal industry.

California Senate Approves Special Banks for Marijuana Retailers. The state Senate voted 35-1 Tuesday to approve a bill that would allow people to start banks and credit unions that could accept cash from state-legal marijuana businesses. SB 51 would allow those banks to issue special checks to retailers that could only be used for certain purposes, such as paying state taxes and state-based vendors. The bill now goes to the Assembly.

New Jersey Decriminalization, Expungement Bills Held Up. A last-minute move to pass decriminalization and expungement bills after legalization was stifled in the legislature is itself now stalled. A vote that was set for Thursday has been canceled after Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) said he was not in favor of the legislation.

Hemp

Louisiana Hemp Bill Advances, But Is Encumbered by Regulations. A bill to legalize hemp farming in the state, HB 491, has passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee, but only after committee chair Sen. Francis Thompson (R), an avowed hemp skeptic, tacked a series of amendments on the measure that imposes a "tremendous amount" of regulation, according to Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, who supports the bill. The measure has already passed the House and now goes to the full Senate. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) has said he will sign it if it makes it to his desk.

Drug Policy

ONDCP Director Carroll to Convene Emerging Threats Committee. White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Director Jim Carroll announced Tuesday the formation of an Emerging Threats Committee to identify and respond to evolving and emerging drug threats in the United States. "The drug threats facing the United States are constantly changing and more complex than ever before. It is critical we not only meet the challenges of today, but also prepare to address the threats of tomorrow. By bringing together those people on the front lines of this fight, we can position ourselves to proactively respond to these threats, and preserve the safety and security of American citizens," Carroll said. The committee consists of 14 representatives from National Drug Control Program agencies, state, local and tribal governments, and non-governmental agencies.

Foreign Policy

House Committee Votes to Increase Colombia Anti-Drug Aid. The House Appropriations Committee has approved a $40 million increase in development and counternarcotics assistance to Colombia. That would make next year's package worth $457 million, far more than the $344 million the Trump administration requested in its budget. "The committee is inclined to continue its partnership with Colombia and to build on the progress of recent years made possible by the adoption of the peace accord. The agreement, combined with a renewed initiative to fight illegal crop cultivation and drug trafficking, offers great hope for the social, economic and political future of the country," the committee said in a statement. $189 million of the funds would go to anti-drug efforts.

International

Model Drug Law for West Africa Presented to Health Ministers on Sidelines of 72nd Session of the World Health Assembly. The West Africa Commission on Drugs, UNAIDS and the Global Commission on Drug Policy presented the Model Drug Law for West Africa to ministers of health of the Economic Community of West African States on Wednesday. The model drug law provides concrete templates that countries can adapt to reform their drug laws -- legal provisions and how they relate to international legal obligations -- as well as useful commentary that explains different options and reasons for choosing the proposed legal solutions. The model drug law offers a measured way for decriminalizing drug use and possession for personal use by introducing thresholds, thereby allowing people who use drugs to access health services and seek support. The model drug law acknowledges that barriers must also be removed so that the millions of people in need of health services, including people living with cancer or with HIV, can access the treatment and care they need.

(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: CO Drug Defelonization Bill Advances, Mexico Murders, Colombia Massacres, More... (4/23/19)

Drug prohibition is engendering new levels of violence in Mexico and Colombia, the Denver city council deals a blow to would-be social consumption business operators, the FDA approves generic naloxone, and more.

The black market in cocaine is fueling violence in Mexico and Colombia. (USCBP)
Marijuana

Denver City Council Rejects Easing Restrictions on Social Consumption. A resolution to make it easier for businesses offering on-premises consumption by halving the 1,000-foot buffer between them and daycare centers, drug treatment centers, and city-owned parks has failed in the city council. The council voted 7-5 to approve the measure, but because it would have amended the city's voter-approved 2016 social consumption, it needed nine votes to pass.

Harm Reduction

FDA Approves First Generic Naloxone. The Food and Drug Administration announced last Friday that it has approved the first generic formulation of naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug. The agency also said it will prioritize its review of other applications for generic variants of products intended to treat opioid overdoses. "In the wake of the opioid crisis, a number of efforts are underway to make this emergency overdose reversal treatment more readily available and more accessible. In addition to this approval of the first generic naloxone nasal spray, moving forward we will prioritize our review of generic drug applications for naloxone," the FDA said.

Sentencing Reform

Bipartisan Drug Defelonization Bill Advances in Colorado Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill 3-2 Monday that would reduce the penalties for drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. The bipartisan legislation, HB19-1263, which was approved by the full House on April 18, will now advance to the Senate Finance Committee.

International

UN Report Finds Massacres on the Increase in Colombia. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has issued a report revealing a large increase in massacres carried out in Colombia, reflecting new criminal dynamics in key areas of the country. OHCHR noted just 11 massacres in 2017, but that number nearly tripled to 29 cases last year. Most of the massacres occurred in the departments of Antioquia, Cauca, Norte de Santander and Caquetá, areas particularly affected by Colombia's ongoing armed conflict. In the wake of the peace agreement between the FARC and the government, old and newly emerging criminal groups are fighting over who will control coca and poppy-growing areas and distribution.

Mexico Murder Rate Keeps Increasing. Data released this week from the National System for Public Security show that the homicide rate in the country has soared in the first two months of this year. Some 8,493 people were killed between January 1 and March 3, a 9.6% jump over the same period in 2018. Most -- but not all -- of the violence is related to fighting between rival cartels and clashes between cartels and members of the state security apparatus. The previous two years had both seen record numbers of killings, with some 33,341 reported last year, but if the rate seen in early numbers this year continues, the toll could reach 50,000 by year's end.

The War on Cocaine Only Strengthens Drug Cartels, Study Finds [FEATURE]

If you've spent nearly a half-century and $250 billion trying to stop the flow of cocaine into the US and the white powder is now cheaper and more plentiful than ever, maybe it's time to rethink. That's the implicit lesson lurking behind a new study on the impact of drug interdiction efforts on drug trafficking organizations.

cocaine interdicted by US Customs (dhs.gov)
Interdiction is the supply side approach to reducing drug use. Rather than reducing demand through education, prevention, and treatment, interdiction seeks to reduce the supply of drugs available domestically by blocking them en route to the US or at the border.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and conducted by scientists from a half-dozen American universities, the study relied on a computer model called NarcoLogic that shows how drug traffickers respond to interdiction strategies and tactics. More sophisticated than previous attempts to simulate the drug trade, NarcoLogic models local- and network-level trafficking dynamics at the same time.

"Our team consists of researchers who worked in different parts of Central America during the 2000s and witnessed a massive surge of drugs into the region that coincided with a reinvigoration of the war on drugs," David Wrathall of Oregon State University's College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences said in a press release announcing the research results. "We asked ourselves: did drug interdiction push drug traffickers into these places?"

The short answer is yes, and that has implications that go far beyond drug policy. The Central American migrants who are at the center of the current "border crisis" are fleeing not only poverty but also high levels of violence generated by the movement of Mexican drug trafficking groups into the region a decade ago as they faced increasing interdiction efforts at home and from US authorities.

In fact, although it is not addressed in this new research, it was earlier interdiction efforts aimed at Colombian cocaine trafficking groups in the 1980s that led directly to the transformation of formerly small-scale Mexican cross-border smuggling organizations into the Frankenstein's monster of drug prohibition that the cartels are today. With the Colombians under intense pressure, Mexican traffickers rose to the occasion and have been making billions of dollars a year ever since.

This despite five decades of US interdiction efforts with an average annual expenditure of $5 billion. Instead of curbing the flow of cocaine into the United States, all that has been accomplished is making the drug trafficking operations more widespread and harder to eradicate. Putting pressure on one route or location simply leads traffickers to scatter and regroup. This is the "balloon effect," where suppressing traffic or production in one area prompts it to pop up elsewhere, and the "cockroach effect," where traffickers simply decentralize their operations.

"Between 1996 and 2017, the Western Hemisphere transit zone grew from 2 million to 7 million square miles, making it more difficult and costly for law enforcement to track and disrupt trafficking networks," Wrathall said. "But as trafficking spread, it triggered a host of smuggling-related collateral damages: violence, corruption, proliferation of weapons, and extensive and rapid environmental destruction."

And for all that effort, the impact on cocaine price and availability has been negligible -- or even perverse.

"Wholesale cocaine prices in the United States have actually dropped significantly since 1980, deaths from cocaine overdose are rising, and counterdrug forces intercept cocaine shipments at a low rate. More cocaine entered the United States in 2015 than in any other year," Wrathall said. "And one thing people who support interdiction and those who don't can agree on is that change is needed. This model can help determine what that change should look like."

The main takeaway from the study is not that drug trafficking became more widespread and resilient because of ineffective interdiction efforts, but because of interdiction itself. The policy aimed at suppressing the drug trade has only made it stronger and wealthier.

"The study is a victory for observation and theory. This model successfully recreates the dynamic our team had observed," Wrathall said. "It tells us that increased interdiction will continue to push traffickers into new areas, spreading networks, and allowing them to continue to move drugs north."

Maybe it is time to try something different.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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