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

Mexico (STDW) - Thu, 12/07/2017 - 03:26

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

[image:1 align:left caption:true]1. Global Prohibitionist Consensus Starts to Crumble

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

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

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

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

2. Afghanistan Remains the World's Opium Breadbasket

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

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

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

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

[image:2 align:right caption:true]3. Movement Toward Acceptance of Recreational Marijuana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Mexico's Brutal Drug Wars

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

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

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

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

6. Latin America Breaks Away from US Drug War Hegemony

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

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

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

[image:3 align:left caption:true]7.Safe Injection Sites Start Spreading

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

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

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

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

8. And Heroin Maintenance, Too

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

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

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

9. New Drugs, New Markets

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

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

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

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

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

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

10.Massacring Drug Suspects in Southeast Asia

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

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

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

Categories: Mexico

Chronicle AM: OR Magic Mushroom Init Coming in 2020, MI MedMJ Rules Set, More... (12/5/17)

Mexico (STDW) - Tue, 12/05/2017 - 22:14

A proposed Oregon initiative would legalize psilocbyin for medicinal use, Michigan regulators release emergency medical marijuana rules in the nick of time, Wisconsin takes another step toward drug testing welfare and job training participants, and more.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]Medical Marijuana

Michigan Releases Medical Marijuana Business Rules. The state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has released emergency rules governing medical marijuana facilities with just two weeks to go before the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation begins taking applications. "The emergency administrative rules are designed to preserve patient protections and provide them with access to safe medical marihuana," said Bureau of Medical Marihuana Regulation Director Andrew Brisbo. "These rules also allow growers, processors, secure transporters, provisioning centers, and safety compliance facilities to operate under clear requirements."

Psychedelics

Oregon 2020 Initiative Would Legalize Psilocybin Mushrooms. A husband and wife team calling themselves the Oregon Psilocybin Society are working on putting a psilocybin legalization initiative on the state's 2020 ballot. The measure doesn't call for legal recreational use, but would create a highly regulated system to allow use for medical purposes. Next door in California, a similar initiative aimed at 2018 would legalize magic mushrooms.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Approves Plan to Drug Test Welfare, Job Training Participants. Gov. Scott Walker (R) has approved a plan to implement drug screening for able-bodied adults participating in the FoodShare Employment and Training (FSET) program, sending the rule change measure to the State Legislature for review. The rule is part of the policy amendments included in 2015 Wisconsin Act 55. The legislature now has 120 days to review the measure. Once approved by the legislature, it will become effective the first day of the following month.

International

Leading Mexican Presidential Candidate Suggests Amnesty for Drug Cartel Kingpins. Leading presidential contender Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has caused controversy by suggesting that he is open to amnesty for drug cartel leaders as part of a dialog aimed at ending that violence that has seen an estimated 200,000 people killed in the last decade. "If it is necessary… we will talk about granting amnesty so long as the victims and their families are willing," he said. "We'll propose it. I'm analyzing it. What I can say is that we will leave no issue without discussion if it has to do with peace and tranquility." Lopez Obrador currently has a more than 10-point lead in presidential polls, and his foes in the political and business classes are trying to use the remarks against him.

Categories: Mexico

Chronicle AM: Mexican Military's Drug War Abuses, Norway Reduces LSD Penalties, More... (11/9/17)

Mexico (STDW) - Thu, 11/09/2017 - 18:54

The man behind Florida's medical marijuana initiatives is considering a run for governor and now wants to legalize it, a battle over medical marijuana is looming in Indiana, a new report says the Mexican military is getting away with murder in its US-backed drug war, and more.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy

Colorado Towns Approve New Pot Taxes. Voters in several localities approved proposals to set new marijuana taxes on Tuesday. Eagle County approved new sales and excise taxes that will start at 2.5% and increase to 5%. The town of De Beque appoved a 5% sales tax, while Longmont approved a 3% tax and Berthoud a 7% one.

Florida Attorney, Possible Gubernatorial Candidate, Says Legalize It. Florida attorney John Morgan, the man behind the state's medical marijuana initiatives, is considering a run at the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and he says he's ready to legalize marijuana. "As to marijuana itself -- and I've kind of evolved to this point -- I believe now that the real answer is that we should just legalize marijuana, period, in America," he said in an interview with WUFT TV. "There's so many kids, young people, whose lives are ruined forever for possession of marijuana. And you get arrested, yeah, you may not go to jail, but that may be the end of West Point, that may be the end of law school, that may be the end of getting this university, it may be the end of that job."

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Battle Lines Forming Over Medical Marijuana. A group of military veterans advocating for medical marijuana is holding a news conference today to make their case for legalization, but they're facing opposition from the state's county prosecutors, who have urged state leaders to resist legalization "in any form, for any purpose." In making their case, the Association of Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys deployed Reefer Madness-style rhetoric, writing that "despite claims of the contrary, the legalization of marijuana could further exacerbate Indiana's opioid epidemic," and, "that information purporting that marijuana is medicine is based on half-truths and anecdotal evidence."

International

Backed by US Anti-Drug Funds, Mexico's Military is Getting Away With Murder, New Report Charges. A new report from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) charges that the Mexican military is resorting to torture, sexual violence, extrajudicial executions, and forced disappearances as it pursues its fight against drug trafficking organizations. Rampant violations go unpunished, and the report exposes a culture of impunity and a lack of transparency within the military. "Violence has increased in the country while human rights violations persist, the urgency and pressure to pass reforms to strengthen the civilian police force has decreased, and accountability has been virtually nonexistent," the report noted.

Norway Lowers Penalties for LSD Possession. Hearing an appeal from a man sentenced to five months in jail for possession of LSD for personal use, the Supreme Court has instead sentenced him to 45 hours of community service, setting the stage for a more general relaxation of penalties for LSD possession for personal use.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Categories: Mexico

Chronicle AM: New Gallup Poll Has Record Support for Marijuana Legalization, More... (10/25/17)

Mexico (STDW) - Wed, 10/25/2017 - 20:54

Nearly two-thirds of Americans now support marijuana legalization, and even more in Connecticut, the House passes a bill increasing funding for drug interdiction, the GAO reports on five years of US drug war spending in Latin America, Afghanistan has a whopping record opium crop, and more.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy

Gallup Poll Has Legalization Support at Record High, Approaching Two-Thirds. A Gallup poll released Wednesday has support for marijuana legalization at a record high 64%, up four points from last year and twice as high as just 17 years ago. The poll also includes another first: For the first time, a majority of Republicans support legalization.

Connecticut Poll Has Legalization Support Above 70%. A new Sacred Heart University Institute for Public Policy poll has support for legalization at a whopping 70.6%. That includes both "strongly support" and "somewhat support." Among people under 35, 83.2% wanted to legalize it, and even 73.6% of residents with children in the household were supportive. Legalization should be on the legislative agenda next year.

Washington State Marijuana Sales Top $1 Billion Mark This Year. By the end of September, retail marijuana sales topped $1.1 billion, according to data released by the State Liquor and Cannabis Board. That's just short of Colorado's figure of $1.118 billion so far this year.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Bill Would Create Federal Task Force to Fight Fentanyl and Heroin. US Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Evan Jenkins (R-VA) filed HR 4090, the Fentanyl and Heroin Task Force Act, on Monday. The bill would create a multi-agency task force including members of Customs and Border Protection, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, the IRS, the International Trade Administration, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the US Postal Inspection Service. The task force would coordinate federal efforts to go after fentanyl trafficking groups and identify the sources of heroin and fentanyl production and distribution. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

House Passes Bill to Beef Up Customs, Border Patrol to Wage Drug War. The House voted 412-3 to approve HR 2142, the INTERDICT Act. The bill appropriates funds to pay for new screening devices, laboratory equipment, facilities, and personnel needed to enforce prohibition against fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. A companion measure in the Senate hasn't moved yet.

Foreign Policy

GAO Report: US Spent $39 Billion Fighting Drugs in Western Hemisphere in Five Years. Between 2010 and 2015, US agencies implementing the National Drug Control Strategy spent $39 billion trying to block the flow of drugs from Latin America into the United States. That includes the Defense Department, Homeland Security's ICE, Homeland Security's CBP, the Coast Guard, the Justice Department's DEA and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces, the State Department, and the Agency for International Development. Given the huge drug flows from south of the border, it doesn't seem to be working that well.

State Department Wants Stronger Anti-Drug Efforts from Mexico. A day after the DEA identified Mexican drug trafficking groups as the key criminal threat in drug enforcement, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told a business meeting in Mexico that Mexico needed to do more to help. "More rigorous, collaborative efforts to confront the threat posed by the production and distribution of heroin and fentanyl are a priority for the United States," Sullivan said in remarks reported by ABC News.

International

Afghanistan Has Record Opium Harvest This Year. The opium poppy crop this year is a record and more than double last year's crop, according to Afghan Counter-Narcotics Minister Salamt Azimi. He blamed high levels of insurgency for preventing eradication programs from operating. Last year's crop was estimated at 4,700 tons, but this year's will likely exceed 10,000 tons.

Categories: Mexico

Chronicle AM: DEA Annual Threat Assessment Released, Trump Opium Event Thursday, More... (10/24/17)

Mexico (STDW) - Tue, 10/24/2017 - 20:09

The White House could announce a national opioid emergency on Thursday, the DEA releases its annual drug threat assessment, the Maine legislature approves a marijuana regulation bill, and more.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy

Maine Legislature Passes Marijuana Regulation Bill, Governor May Veto. The legislature approved a bill to regulate the state's impending legal marijuana market Monday, but not by big enough a margin to withstand an expected veto by Gov. Paul LePage (R). The bill would set up a licensing system and set a 10% sales tax and a weight-based excise tax for transactions between growers and retailers. If LePage vetoes the bill, the result could be "chaos" that would throw "oxygen onto the fire of the black market," said Sen. Roger Katz (R-Augusta) in remarks reported by the Bangor Daily News. LePage has said he wants to postpones retail sales until next year.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

White House to Host Opioid Event on Thursday. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has announced that it will host an event Thursday on "the nationwide opioid crisis." The announcement did not make clear what the event will be, but could be the declaration of a national emergency around the opioid crisis. President Trump surprised his advisors last week by saying he would make such an announcement this week.

Trump Opioid Commission Member Not Optimistic. In an interview Monday, Trump opioid commission member former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) said he was not optimistic that any recommendations from the commission will lead to any effective action to ameliorate the opioid crisis. Kennedy told the Washington Post "the worry is that" the commission's final recommendations, set for release next week, "won't be adopted."

Drug Store Group Offers Recommendations to Ease Opioid Crisis. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores, which has been criticized on some fronts for contributing to the crisis, has suggested four public policy initiatives that could help rein it in. Among the policy prescriptions are a seven-day limit for initial opioid prescriptions, nationwide electronic prescription monitoring, the use of manufacturer-funded envelopes to return unused opioids, and regulation of synthetic opioids. The association did not address the impact such policy prescriptions could have on chronic pain patients.

Law Enforcement

DEA Releases 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment. The agency released its annual report Monday, and it concentrates on the opioid crisis. The report notes the high number of prescription opioid overdose deaths, warns that heroin is a "serious public health and safety threat," notes the rise of fentanyl, says "the methamphetamine threat remains prevalent," "the cocaine threat continues to rebound," and that the emergence of new psychoactive substances remains "a challenge," among other findings. It qualifies Mexican drug trafficking organizations as "the greatest criminal drug threat in the United States."

Categories: Mexico
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