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Chronicle AM: US Lawmakers Rip Duterte; Kamala Harris, Rand Paul File Bail Reform Bill, More... (7/21/17)

A congressional panel ripped into Philippines President Duterte and his bloody drug war Thursday, Kamala Harris and Rand Paul file a bail reform bill, a South Carolina Republican congressman files a bill to allow drug testing of unemployment applicants, and more.

US Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) at hearing of congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Thursday. (TLHRC)
Marijuana Policy

Maine House Approves Bill Requiring Marijuana Be Tested for Safety. The House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would require the state Agriculture Department to set up testing facilities for marijuana before it could be sold. This is the first bill from a special select committee of legislators charged with creating a regulatory regime for legal pot. It goes against the wishes of Gov. Paul LePage (R), who wants the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations to be in charge of all legal marijuana regulations.

Criminal Justice

US Sens. Kamala Harris, Rand Paul File Federal Bail Reform Bill. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) filed the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act of 2017 on Thursday. The purpose of the bill is "to encourage states to reform or replace the practice of money bail, the requirement that individuals awaiting trial remain in jail unless they pay for their release." Without being able to make bail, people charged—but not convicted—with a crime can spend weeks or months behind bars, with devastating consequences for employment, finances, and families. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

Drug Testing

South Carolina Rep Files Federal Unemployment Drug Testing Bill. US Rep. Buddy Carter (R-SC) filed a bill on Thursday that would let states screen unemployment applications for drug use and force them to undergo drug testing in some circumstances. The bill would deny unemployment benefits for 30 days to anyone testing positive for drug use, and a second positive drug test would result in a year-long ban. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

International

US Lawmakers Rip Philippines Drug War Abuses. At a hearing of the Congress's Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on Thursday, American lawmakers ripped into Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte over drug war abuses, including the killing of thousands of drug suspects, and called on President Trump to condemn Duterte—and to rescind an invitation to visit the White House. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) said she was "troubled" by the invite, while Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) said he would "lead the protest" if Duterte shows up. "President Duterte, by all accounts, seems to not have a high regard for human rights," McGovern said. "The United States government cannot afford any degree of complicity with the kinds of human rights violations that are occurring," he said. "No other country – I repeat that, 'no other country' – comes to mind where people are assassinated on the streets in the name of fighting drugs, and leaders brag about it as a good thing," he added.

UN Says Bolivia Coca Cultivation on the Rise. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has expressed concern about what it says is a 14% increase in land under coca cultivation. "This increase is a concern for us," said UN Drugs and Crime Representative of Bolivia, Antonio De Leo.  Bolivian President Evo Morales expressed regret at the report, but noted that much more illicit coca is being grown in Colombia and Peru.

Chronicle AM: Vets MedMJ Vets Advances in Senate, Drug War Bill Advances in House, More... (7/13/15)

Congress is dealing with medical marijuana and drug policy issues, legalization advocates call on New Hampshire's governor to kill a marijuana study commission bill, Rhode Island's governor issues an executive order dealing with the state's opioid crisis, and more.

VA docs could recommend medical marijuana for veterans under legislation moving in the Senate (Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska's Largest City Wants Social Consumption at Pot Shops. The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday urged the state Marijuana Control Board to allow tourists and locals to smoke or otherwise consume marijuana at retail stores. The move comes as the board is set to meet in Fairbank later this week. The board is expected to examine several proposals related to consumption in pot shops at that meeting.

Montana Man Challenges State's Standard for Marijuana DUIs. A Billings man facing a vehicular manslaughter charge for an accident while he was allegedly under the influence of marijuana is challenging the state's de jure standard of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. Kent Roderick Jensen and his attorney argue that the standard is arbitrary and the charge should be dismissed. "There is no science to back up the 5 ng/mL level as a level that indicates impairment in a sizable enough portion of users to make it a standard for everyone," his attorney wrote in a motion seeking dismissal. The judge in the case has heard oral arguments and received written briefs, but has yet to make a decision.

New Hampshire Governor Should Veto Marijuana Study Commission, Reform Advocates Say. Advocates sent a letter to Gov. Chris Sununu (R) asking him to veto House Bill 215, a bill that would create a study commission to consider marijuana legalization and regulation. The letter, which was signed by leading advocates including the bill's prime sponsor, Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton), notes that, "The commission envisioned by the final bill includes numerous vocal opponents, such as the Association of Chiefs of Police and New Futures, but it does not include any known supporters." The House version of the bill included a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and a representative from the Marijuana Policy Project, which would have added some balance to the commission, but the Senate removed those prospective members from the bill.

Wisconsin Lawmaker Files Legalization Bill. Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) on Thursday announced she would file a marijuana legalization bill. There are no details on it yet. This would be the fourth time she has filed a similar bill.

Medical Marijuana

US Senate Panel Approves Medical Marijuana for Veterans. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted on Thursday to adopt an amendment that would allow military veterans to get medical marijuana recommendations through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bipartisan measure picked up four more votes than last year in the committee. Then, it was approved by the full House, but killed in conference committee.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Rhode Island Governor Signs Executive Order Dealing With Opioid Crisis. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) was joined by White House acting drug czar Richard Baum on Thursday as she signed an executive order aimed at curbing the "alarming rate of deaths" due to opioid overdoses. The 18-point order includes directives calling for a family task force on impacts of opioid use, expanded access to "sober" homes for people in recovery, and the creation of diversion programs to keep people out of the criminal justice system, among others.

Drug Policy

House Judiciary Committee Approves Bill that Gives Attorney General Sessions Unchecked Power to Ban New Drugs and Set Criminal Penalties. The committee on Wednesday advanced legislation that greatly expands the penalties for new drugs and gives Attorney General Sessions unilateral new powers to schedule drugs. Opponents warned that the legislation is a counterproductive approach to the opioid crisis that will exacerbate mass incarceration and enable Attorney General Sessions to ban hundreds of substances and prosecute people with long federal prison terms in violation of the new drug laws. The measure is House Resolution 2851, the "Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act of 2017," or "SITSA."

International

Colombia's Coca Crop Substitution Program Faces Same Old Obstacles, Report Finds. A new report from the Colombian Ideas for Peace Foundation casts doubt on the government's ability to eradicate 250,000 acres of coca plantings, saying a vacuum left by the demobilization of leftist FARC guerrillas has not been filled by the state, but is instead being filled by illegal armed drug trafficking groups and paramilitary formations. That means the state is not providing adequate security measures and sustainable alternatives in areas historically hit hardest by decades of armed conflict.

Chronicle AM: MA MJ Talks Resume, WI "Cocaine Mom" Law Back in Effect (For Now), More... (7/10/17)

Massachusetts lawmakers finally figured out their budget, so now maybe they can figure out how to implement the will of the voters on legal pot; the Supreme Court lets Wisconsin continue to enforce its "cocaine mom" law as the state appeals a lower court ruling it's unconstitutional; Colombian coca cultivation was way up last year, and more.

Colombian coca cultivation jumped last year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime says. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Lawmakers Resume Talks on Implementing Legalization. A House-Senate conference committee was set for a closed door meeting Monday afternoon to restart negotiations over legislation that would implement the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization law. House and Senate negotiators are split over a number of issues, foremost among them taxation rates and whether localities can ban pot businesses without a popular vote.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Seeks Letters of Intent from Prospective Growers and Dispensaries. The Health Department last Friday asked prospective medical marijuana growers and dispensary operators to send in letters of intent to apply under the state's new medical marijuana law. The department said it wants a better idea of how many applications it will receive in coming months. Interested parties have until July 28 to send in their letters.

Drug Policy

US Supreme Court Lets Wisconsin "Cocaine Mom" Law Stay in Effect Pending Appeal. The Supreme Court last Friday issued an order lifting an injunction against Wisconsin's "cocaine mom" law imposed in April. The law allows state officials to detain pregnant women suspected of using drugs or alcohol. A federal district court judge ruled the law unconstitutionally vague and issued the injunction, but now the Supreme Court will allow the state to continue to use the law while it appeals the lower court ruling.

Sentencing

Report: Some Federal Prosecutors Ignored Obama Sentencing Recommendations. A report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General released last Friday finds that at least 20 of the country's 94 federal prosecutorial districts did not follow Obama administration "Smart on Crime" sentencing recommendations aimed at reducing the number of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. Still, the report noted, the initiative had an impact: Drug offenders sentenced without mandatory minimum sentences increased from 40% in 2014 to 54% in 2015.

International

UN Says Colombia Coca Cultivation Increased Dramatically Last Year. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports that the amount of land under coca cultivation jumped from 250,000 acres in 2015 to 363,000 acres last year, an increase of nearly 50%. The UNODC notes that most of the increase came in areas that had been under the control of the now demobilized FARC guerrillas. The Colombian military failed to take effective control of those areas, leaving a power vacuum filled by dissident guerrilla groups, rightist paramilitaries, and drug trafficking organizations.

Chronicle AM: Drug Warriors Push Back on Sentencing Criticisms, Mexico Violence, More... (7/7/17)

There's medical marijuana news from Maryland, drug warriors defend Sessions' harsh sentencing approach, Mexico's prohibition-related violence is ticking upward, and more.

Coca processing lab at site of first coca plantation found and destroyed in Honduras. (Honduras Public Prosecutor's Office)
Medical Marijuana

Maryland Regulators Approve First Dispensary. The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission approved a dispensary license for the Wellness Institute of Maryland in Frederick on Wednesday. The store began seeing patients Thursday for "pre-orders," but won't actually have a crop to harvest for several months.

Maryland Governor Overhauls Medical Cannabis Commission. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Thursday overhauled the commission, which had come under fire for its launch of the state's medical marijuana program. He replaced six members whose terms on the 16-member panel had expired and filled three vacancies. The new appointments doubled the number of minority commissioners from two to four, responding to calls from the Legislative Black Caucus and others to create more diversity in the program.

Sentencing

Drug Warriors Defend Sessions' Hard Line on Drug Sentencing. The heads of professional groupings committed to punitive, prohibitionist drug policies penned an op-ed Wednesday defending Attorney General Sessions' return to harsh sentencing practices and charging that Obama administration efforts to reduce drug sentences had left "a devastating mark downstream on the safety of communities across the nation." The piece was a direct response to an op-ed last month by former Assistant Attorney General Sally Yates, who noted that violent crimes rates are still at historic lows and accused Sessions of "stoking fear" with an argument that "just isn't supported by the facts."

International

Cartel Clashes in Northern Mexico Leave 26 Dead. At least 26 people were killed in a predawn gun battle between warring cartels Wednesday in Las Varas, Chihuahua, as members of La Linea squared off against a Sinaloa cartel faction. The violence in Chihuahua comes just days after a firefight with police near the resort town of Mazatlan, Sinaloa, left 19 suspected cartel members dead. Violence is surging in Mexico, with 2,186 homicide investigations opened in May, the most in any month since the government began publishing homicide statistics in the 1990s.

Honduras Destroys First Coca Crop. Honduran Army units on Friday destroyed a coca plantation containing 12,000 plants near the town of Esquipulas del Norte in Olancho province, marking the first time a coca crop had been found and eradicated in the country. Authorities had discovered the planting in late April. They also found a crude coca processing lab nearby and are investigating "the possible involvement of foreigners."

Chronicle AM: Key MJ Issues Dividing MA Pols, Some Coca Diverted, Says Morales, More... (6/27/17):

Massachusetts lawmakers are slugging it out over what legalization will look like this week, Bolivia's president acknowledges and decries the diversion of coca to the black market, and more.

Evo acknowledges and decries the diversion of Bolivian coca to the black market, and says he enjoys coca flour. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legalization Implementation: What Divides the House and Senate. As legislators work this week to seek compromise between competing legalization implementation bills passed by the House and Senate, six major issues are at play. They are: tax levels (the House wants more), whether localities need to put marijuana bans to a popular vote, expungement of past marijuana convictions (the House doesn't address it; the Senate does), governance structures, safety and packaging regulations, and racial equity provisions.

Virginia Marijuana Driving Law Goes Into Effect on Saturday. A law that ends automatic drivers' license suspensions for marijuana offenders goes into effect Saturday. Instead, judges will have the option of ordering community service instead of license suspension for marijuana offenders who were not behind the wheel when busted.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Kentucky Tighter Opioid Prescribing Rules Go Into Effect Friday. A new law restricting the prescribing of Schedule II opioids goes into effect Friday. Under the new law, patients being treated for acute pain will be prescribed no more than a three-day supply, with a number of specified exceptions.

International

Bolivia's Morales Acknowledges, Decries Coca Being Diverted to Black Market. In his closing remarks at last weekend's Coca Fair in Cochabamba, Bolivian President Evo Morales acknowledged and decried the diversion of coca into the cocaine black market. "Unfortunately, part of the coca crop goes to an illegal coca market in the West," Morales said. He also called for continued coca industrialization, saying it would bring economic benefits to Bolivia, and revealed that he consumes coca flour daily. "I'm not ashamed, since last year I have eaten coca flour twice a day, that's how I can build up my stamina," he said.

Chronicle AM: DEA Lied About Honduras Incident, Not Guilty Verdict in SD MJ Case, More... (5/25/17)

A joint report from the Justice and State inspector generals' finds that the DEA lied and covered up the facts in a 2012 Honduran raid that left four innocent civilians dead, Peruvian security forces prepare to enter forbidden territory in the country's coca heartland, the South Dakota attorney general's ploy to win political advantage by prosecuting a pot consultant fails, and more.

Authorities in Honduras have discovered their first domestic coca plantation. (deamuseum.org)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legislature Passes Bill to Fund the Implementation of the Marijuana Legalization Initiative and Change the Agency That Will Regulate Marijuana for Adult Use. The Senate on Thursday passed Legislative Document 243 unanimously "under the hammer," without debate or a roll call vote, sending it to Gov. Paul LePage (R) for final approval. The House passed it "under the hammer" on Wednesday. The bill would transfer the authority to oversee adult-use marijuana from the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations within the Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS). The Bureau would be responsible for licensing adult-use marijuana businesses and creating and enforcing regulations. LD 243 also allocates $200,000 to the Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation and $1.4 million to DAFS to implement Question 1.

South Dakota Attorney General Foiled in Bid to Prosecute Pot Consultant for Personal Political Advantage. A jury in Flandreau acquitted a marijuana business consultant of conspiracy to possess and marijuana possession Wednesday. Eric Hagen, president of Colorado-based Monarch America, had contracted with the Flandreau Sioux tribe to assist it in developing a marijuana grow operation and resort, a plan that was abandoned by the tribe in the face of mixed signals from the federal government and staunch opposition from state officials. Led by Attorney General Marty Jackley (R), who is eying the state's governor's office, the state nine-months later charged Hagen and a business partner, even though they never possessed or controlled any marijuana. It took a juror just two hours to find Hagen not guilty. Hagen immediately accused Jackley of ruining his company through a politically motivated prosecution. "He tanked our company by spreading lies and rumors," Hagen said. "It was 100 percent politically motivated. This was simply a media ploy for Jackley because he's running for governor in 2018."

International

Peruvian Forces Set to Enter Key Coca Cultivation Area. Security forces are preparing to enter the lawless Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro River valleys (VRAEM) coca growing areas for the first time as part of a plan to eradicate half the country's coca supply by 20121. The area, where an estimated 125,000-150,000 acres of coca is grown is remote, on the far side of the Andes, and the trade there is protected by armed rebel groups and drug trafficking organization. "It has to be done slowly, but it has to be done," Peru's drug czar Carmen Masias told a news conference.

Hondurans Bust First Coca Plantation. For years, Honduras has been a key transshipment point for cocaine headed from South America toward North American markets, but now Honduran authorities report finding their first domestic coca growing operation. They busted the field containing an estimated 7,000 plants last month in the mountainous region of Esquipulas del Norte. "We have confirmed through toxicological exams that we're dealing with coca plants. This is the first time we've confiscated a coca plantation in Honduras," prosecutor Carlos Morazan said. "At the site, we found a laboratory with tools and precursor chemicals for making coca paste and for processing the drug up to its final power form," Morazan added.

DOJ Report Says DEA Lied About Fatal Honduran Drug Raid. In 2012, a botched drug raid in Honduras led to the shooting deaths of four civilians, including a teenage boy, as they floated along a river. Now, a report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General finds that the DEA lied when it claimed the victims were cocaine traffickers who had shot first and that DEA agents were only present as advisors. The report says the DEA failed to properly investigate, blocked attempts to find the truth, and stuck with an inaccurate version of events despite the efforts of Congress and the Justice Department to get to the bottom of it.

Chronicle AM: NJ Legalization Bill Filed, Seattle Safe Injection Sites Face NIMBY, More... (5/15/17)

A new Jersey state senator wants to legalize marijuana, and so do Britain's Liberal Democrats; Seattle's proposed safe injection sites face NIMBY opposition, violence flares in Mexico and threatens to erupt in Colombia, and more.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos helps eradicating the first of many coca plants. (President’s Office)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada Legislature Approves Bill Outlawing Urine Testing of Suspected Pot-Impaired Drivers. Lawmakers last Thursday gave final approval to Assembly Bill 135, which would bar the use of urine tests for driving under the influence of marijuana because the science shows that urinalysis does not actually measure impairment -- merely the presence of marijuana metabolites. Under the bill, drivers suspected of being under the influence of pot would be subjected to a blood test, which actually measures THC levels (although not impairment). The bill does not change the state's per se DUID level of two nanogram of THC per milliliter, which presumes drivers are impaired at that level.

New Jersey Legalization Bill Rolled Out Today. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) on Monday introduced a legalization bill, even though he conceded it was unlikely to become law while Gov. Chris Christie (R) is still around. Christie's term ends in January. The bill would allow the possession of up to an ounce, 16 ounces of edibles, and 72 ounces of marijuana-infused beverages, but would not allow personal cultivation. The bill would also create a Division of Marijuana Enforcement to regulate marijuana commerce, with a sales tax of 7%, rising to 25% over five years. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Expansion Bill. Gov. Terry Branstad (R) last Friday signed into law House File 524, which expands an existing law that allows people with certain conditions to use CBD cannabis oil, but did not allow for production or sale of the oil. The new law lets the state authorize up to two facilities to grow marijuana and produce cannabis oil to be sold in five state-approved dispensaries. It also expands the list of qualifying illnesses to include 15 chronic conditions.

Harm Reduction

Seattle Supervised Injection Sites Face NIMBY Opposition. Opponents of proposed supervised injection sites -- one in Seattle and one possibly in suburban King County -- have organized a local initiative campaign to put the proposal to a county-wide vote. Initiative 27 needs some 47,000 valid voter signatures by July 31 to put the proposal to an up or down vote on the November 2017 ballot.

International

Colombian Government Begins Coca Eradication, Narcos Begin Fight-Back. President Juan Manuel Santos took part last Thursday in the kickoff of a campaign to eradicate coca crops and provide substitutes. The government wants to eradicate some 125,000 acres of coca -- more than three times the amount eradicated last year -- but with the FARC now demobilized, drug traffickers and militias are now waging a campaign of threats, intimidation, and violent attacks to protect their business, leaving coca growers caught between the government and the narcos. Nearly three dozen rural community leaders have been assassinated since the November peace deal, and the traffickers seems to be tailing government officials trying to sell the program. In one Putomayo town last week, anonymous pamphlets threatening cooperative leaders appeared the next day.

Mexican Cartel Fight Over Reynosa "Plaza" Leaves More Than Two Dozen Dead. As of late last week, at least 28 people had been killed in fighting among drug traffickers over who would control "la plaza" (the franchise) in the Mexican border town of Reynosa. The dead include cartel members, civilians, and members of the military. The combatants are variously described as either members of the Zetas and Gulf cartels or factions of the Zetas.

British Lib Dems Embrace Marijuana Legalization. The Liberal Democrats have adopted a platform that includes legalizing marijuana and marijuana commerce. The Lib Dems were the third force in British politics behind Labor and the Conservatives, but saw their number of MPs drop dramatically in the most recent elections after joining the Tories as a junior partner in a coalition government. The Lib Dems are now the fourth force in British politics, having been surpassed by the Scottish Nationalists in the last election.

Chronicle AM: VT Lawmakers Pass Legalization, Sessions May Restart Harsh Drug War, More... (5/10/17)

A bill legalizing the possession and cultivaiton of small amounts of marijuana has passed the Vermont legislature, Attorney General Sessions could be on the verge of reinstating harsh drug war prosecution practices, Mexico's drug violence is on the upswing, and more.

The Vermont legislature made history today becoming the first to have both houses approve a legalization bill. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Legislature Passes Legalization Bill. The state becomes the first in the nation to have both chambers of the legislature approve a marijuana legalization bill after the House voted on Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 22, a compromise between a House bill that would only legalize possession and cultivation -- not commerce -- and a Senate bill that envisioned a full-blown tax and regulate law. This bill postpones the effective date of personal legalization to next year and creates a commission to study whether to advance on taxation and regulation. The bill has already passed the Senate and now heads to the desk of Gov. Phil Scott (R). It is unclear whether Scott will sign the bill or not.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Medical Marijuana Bill Dies. Despite the strongest support yet in Austin, the fight to pass a medical marijuana bill is over. House Bill 2107 is dead, killed by the House Calendars Committee, which failed to take action on it by a Tuesday deadline.

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Terry Branstad (R) on Tuesday signed into law Senate File 446, which requires a criminal conviction before property valued at less than $5,000 can be seized by police. The new law also raises the standard of proof from a preponderance of the evidence to "clear and convincing" evidence, and implements record-keeping requirements.

Drug Policy

Attorney General Sessions Could Bring Back Harsh Drug War Prosecutions. Sessions is reviewing policy changes that could reverse Obama era sentencing practices aimed at reducing the federal prison population. According to reports, Sessions could be on the verge of reversing an Eric Holder memo that instructed prosecutors to avoid charging low-level defendants with crimes carrying the most severe penalties and to avoid seeking mandatory minimum sentences. "As the Attorney General has consistently said, we are reviewing all Department of Justice policies to focus on keeping Americans safe and will be issuing further guidance and support to our prosecutors executing this priority -- including an updated memorandum on charging for all criminal cases," Ian Prior, a department spokesman, in a statement to The Washington Post.

Drug Testing

Labor Department Removes Obama Rule Blocking States' Drug Testing for Unemployment Benefits. The department will publish in the Federal Register on Thursday notice that it is officially removing the Obama era rule that limited states' ability to force unemployment applicants to undergo drug testing. Congress had repealed the rule under the Congressional Review Act in March.

International

Irish Senators Approve Supervised Injection Sites. The Seanad on Wednesday approved legislation permitting the creation of supervised injection sites with a bill that will allow for the preparation and possession of drugs on such premises. The measure was approved by the lower house, the Dail, in March.

Mexico's Drug War Was World's Second Deadliest Conflict Last Year. Some 23,000 people were killed in prohibition-related violence in Mexico last year, making the country second only to Syria in terms of lives lost to conflict. About 50,000 were reported killed in the Syrian civil war in 2016. The numbers come from an annual survey of armed conflict from the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan claimed 17,000 and 16,000 lives respectively in 2016, although in lethality they were surpassed by conflicts in Mexico and Central America, which have received much less attention from the media and the international community," said Anastasia Voronkova, the editor of the survey. Last year's toll is a dramatic increase from the 15,000 conflict deaths in Mexico in 2014 and the 17,000 in 2015. "It is noteworthy that the largest rises in fatalities were registered in states that were key battlegrounds for control between competing, increasingly fragmented cartels," she said. "The violence grew worse as the cartels expanded the territorial reach of their campaigns, seeking to 'cleanse' areas of rivals in their efforts to secure a monopoly on drug-trafficking routes and other criminal assets."

Colombian Coca Production More Than Triples. Thanks largely to "perverse incentives" linked to the end of the decades-long conflict between the Colombian state and the FARC, Colombia is growing more coca than ever. As a result, the cocaine market is saturated, prices have crashed, and unpicked coca leaves are rotting in the fields. "We've never seen anything like it before," said Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas. The country produced a whopping 710 tons of cocaine last year, up from 235 tons three years earlier.

Trump Drug Czar Nominee: Tough on Colombian Peasants and US Marijuana Users

President Trump will name Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino (R) to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), CBS News reported Tuesday. The White House gave no official comment, but sources told CBS that an official announcement would come soon.

Reported drug czar nominee Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) (marino.house.gov)
Marino's legacy of legislative achievements around drug policy offers little comfort to reformers looking for signs that the "law and order" theme of the Trump administration may not be as bad as it sounds. Marino is a former prosecutor now in his third term in the House. His 2016 Transnational Drug Trafficking Act expands the ability of US prosecutors to use extraterritoriality to go after international drug traffickers, but while the law is touted as aiming at "kingpins," but observers south of the border have argued that the law "targets people on the lowest rungs of the trafficking ladder, i.e. Colombia's coca farmers." Marino has also been a reliable vote in opposition to marijuana reform in Congress.

Marino's rural congressional district has seen rising concern about heroin and opioids, and he serves on the House bipartisan committee combating the opioid epidemic. A bill he was an author and key supporter of in that area may suggest a more complex picture -- the 2016 Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, which supporters characterized as balancing the needs of patients, the pharmaceutical industry, and law enforcement, but which critics describe as a means of undercutting the DEA's ability to hold pharmaceutical drug distributors accountable for the diversion of large amounts of opioid pain relievers.

The ability of pain patients to have access to the drugs that can help them is a continuing -- and under-covered -- issue in the debate around prescription opioids. So is the ability of physicians to appropriately prescribe them within running afoul of regulatory authorities or even drug enforcement authorities. If Marino's bill reflects a concern with such issues, or a more general willingness to treat DEA pronouncements on such matters with skepticism, that could be useful. Conversely, however, the nation is also in the midst of a much more well-covered increase in the misuse of opioids. ONDCP has a role to play in promoting public health measures that can reduce overdoses and the risk of addiction. If Marino is too deferential to the preferences of big pharma lobbyists, while otherwise hooked on hard-line drug war approaches, opportunities to advance positive approaches for reducing the risks that go with opioids may be squandered.

In the fight over the 2016 Act, Marino, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on Regulatory Reform, clashed repeatedly with DEA Office of Diversion Control head Joseph Rannazzisi. In a 2014 conference call with congressional staffers, Rannazzisi warned that the bill, backed by a pharmaceutical industry lobbying campaign, would protect corporations engaged in criminal activity.

"[If t]his bill passes the way it's written we won't be able to get immediate suspension orders, we won't be able to stop the hemorrhaging of these drugs out of these bad pharmacies and these bad corporations," Rannazzisi recalled telling them. "What you're doing is filing a bill that will protect defendants in our cases."

Rannazzisi's opposition infuriated Marino, who ripped into the veteran DEA official's boss, then-DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart at a congressional hearing later that year.

"It is my understanding that Joe Rannazzisi, a senior DEA official, has publicly accused we sponsors of the bill of, quote, 'supporting criminals,' unquote" Marino said. "This offends me immensely."

A week later, Marino and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) demanded that the Justice Department Office of the Inspector General investigate Rannazzis for "intimidating" members of Congress. Rannazzissi was replaced and retired in October 2015.

Marino's record is good enough for anti-marijuana crusader and former ONDCP advisor Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (Project SAM). "My understanding is that Tom has a deep understanding of the issue and is excited to get started," he enthused to CBS News.

But it's not good enough for anyone interested in a truly progressive approach to drug policy.

Chronicle AM: AZ Init Would Legalize All Drugs, DE Legal MJ Bill Coming, More... (3/24/17)

An Arizona initiative would legalize all drugs, Delaware will see a marijuana legalization bill this year, a West Virginia medical marijuana bill advances, and more.

A Spanish court has refused to convict a man of drug trafficking for importing coca leaf. (YouTube)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Marijuana Legalization Initiative Proposal. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has rejected a proposed marijuana legalization initiative, saying the ballot title is ambiguous and that "a number of changes or additions" are needed "to more fully and correctly summarize" the proposal. The initiative came from Larry Morris of West Fork and would allow for the possession, cultivation, production, distribution, and sale of marijuana in the state.

Delaware Legalization Bill Coming. State Sen. Margaret Rose-Henry (D-Wilmington) is preparing a marijuana legalization bill that she says has support from law enforcement. "Law enforcement wants this bill. I'm pleased to tell you that there are police officers who think this is a good thing that we are going to reduce their having to arrest people who don't need to be arrested," said Rose-Henry. She is currently putting the finishing touches on the bill, she said.

Tennessee House Approves Bill to Undo Nashville's Decriminalization. The House on Thursday approved a bill that would take away Nashville's ability to issue civil citations for small amounts of marijuana instead of arresting people for it. House Bill 173 passed the House 65-28 and now goes to the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Senate Passes Two Medical Marijuana "Fix" Bills. The state Senate on Thursday approved two bills aimed at modifying the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. The Senate approved House Bill 1400, which would ban the smoking of marijuana anywhere tobacco smoking is banned. That bill now goes to the governor's desk. The Senate also approved Senate Bill 721, which would require dispensaries to appoint a pharmacist director who would be available for consultations with patients during hours the dispensary is open. That bill now heads to the House.

Colorado Patient Plant Limit Rises to 24 as Bill Advances. A bill aimed at limiting marijuana home grows has been amended -- again -- in the House Judiciary Committee. In a Wednesday vote, the committee approved raising the plant limit under House Bill 1220 to 24 plants. The bill had originally set the number at 12, but lawmakers then upped the count to 16, and now 24 -- if patients register with the state. The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee voted Friday to approve Senate Bill 386, the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act. The bill would create a system of regulated cultivation sites and dispensaries and allow the use of medical marijuana by persons suffering from a list of qualifying conditions. The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Industrial Hemp

West Virginia Hemp Bills Head for Floor Votes. Both the House and the Senate sent hemp-related measures to floor votes in their respective chambers Wednesday. The Senate Agriculture Committee advanced Senate Resolution 35, which calls on Congress to distinguish between hemp and marijuana by THC threshold. Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee advanced House Bill 2453, which would allow the state agriculture commissioner discretion to issue commercial hemp production licenses.

Drug Policy

Arizona Groups Files Initiatives to Legalize Marijuana, All Drugs. An organization called RAD Final has filed a pair of initiatives relating to drug policy. Initiative I-13-2018 would legalize all drugs and forbid government from taxing or regulating them, while I-14-2018 would legalize marijuana alone. Initiative organizers would have to gather 150,642 valid voter signatures for each initiative by July 2018 to qualify for the 2018 ballot.

Drug Testing

West Virginia Employee Drug Testing Bill Advances. A bill that would let employers require employees to undergo suspicionless drug tests passed the House of Delegates on Thursday. House Bill 2857. The bill now goes to the Senate.

International

Spanish Court Acquits Man of Importing Coca Leaf. The provincial court of Girona has acquitted a Colombian man of drug trafficking charges for importing coca leaf. The decision came after the defense presented evidence and testimony about the historical, cultural, social and medicinal value of the coca leaf.

Drug War Issues

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