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US OK: Group Says Police Are Hampering Petition

Top Stories (MAP) - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 07:00
The Oklahoman, 20 Jun 2014 - TULSA - Supporters of an initiative petition to put a medical marijuana state question to a November vote said Thursday they are experiencing increased interference from authorities statewide. The Tulsa World reported Tuesday allegations by Chip Paul, chairman of Oklahomans for Health, that Tulsa police disrupted petition-circulation efforts at locations that were predisclosed online four times last week.
Categories: Latest News

US PA: Council Backs Marijuana Bill

Top Stories (MAP) - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 07:00
Republican & Herald, 20 Jun 2014 - PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A veto-proof majority of Philadelphia City Council is supporting a bill to effectively decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill passed Thursday, 13-3, with every Democrat in favor of it and every Republican against it. A spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter would not immediately say whether the Democrat would sign it.
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US TX: Attorney: Police Search Lacked Valid Consent

Top Stories (MAP) - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 07:00
Austin American-Statesman, 20 Jun 2014 - Police Were Allowed in Apartment by Resident, Arrest Warrant Says GEORGETOWN- The case against Jacob Lavoro, who could face a steep sentence for allegedly making and selling pot brownies, should be thrown out because police never had a warrant to search his apartment, his lawyer said Thursday as supporters rallied outside a court hearing at the Williamson County Justice Center.
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CN NF: Editorial: Peter Principle

Top Stories (MAP) - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 07:00
The Telegram, 20 Jun 2014 - Peter MacKay is the luckiest man in the world. He is the undisputed poster boy for lying, deceitful politicians, but never seems to pay a price for it. One can only assume he earned this immunity with his first big lie, his promise to fellow Progressive Conservative leadership candidate David Orchard in 2003 not to negotiate a merger with Stephen Harper's Canadian Alliance Party. Ever since, he has sailed through a steady stream of prevarications and mistruths without earning even a timid rap on the knuckles.
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US FL: Medical Marijuana Debate Heats Up

Top Stories (MAP) - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 07:00
The Palm Beach Post, 20 Jun 2014 - Sides Square Off Over Amendment 2 at Chamber Breakfast. The governor's signature on a narrow medical marijuana law this week did not temper the debate at the Thursday morning Chamber of Commerce breakfast surrounding an amendment that would greatly expand that law.
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CN ON: Column: A Radical Stance On Legalizing Illicit Drugs

Top Stories (MAP) - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 07:00
Toronto Star, 20 Jun 2014 - Today's soundtrack is provided by a smartly dressed woman sitting in a coffee shop with a frothy drink in front of her; she is rocking back and forth and slapping herself in the face for reasons known only to her. Now down to business.
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CN ON: Hemp Country Owner Faces Drug Charges

Top Stories (MAP) - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 07:00
Sentinel Review, 20 Jun 2014 - A former Oxford County police officer and the present owner of a Dundas Street drug paraphernalia store is facing drug-related charges stemming from an OPP check of a building in Burford. Cherly MacLellan, 56, owner of Hemp Country in Woodstock, was charged with producing a schedule II substance other than marijuana after police responded to an alarm at the Burford building on Rutherford Street at about 2:50 a.m. Wednesday.
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CN MB: Column: Cheech and Cons: Up In Smoke

Top Stories (MAP) - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 07:00
Winnipeg Sun, 20 Jun 2014 - Good people of Scarborough-Agincourt, we give you Liberal Party candidate Arnold Chan. You should vote for him not so much for what Arnold has done - but for what the Conservative Party hasn't. To be precise, the Conservative Party hasn't behaved itself in the Toronto riding, which was formerly the domain of one Jim Karygiannis. This week, the ruling party circulated noxious flyers all over Scarborough-Agincourt, much in the way the Axis used to drop propaganda leaflets on advancing Allied troops. As in that case, the Tory propaganda is unlikely to defeat the Grit forces.
Categories: Latest News

CN AB: Column: Cheech and Cons: Up In Smoke

Top Stories (MAP) - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 07:00
Edmonton Sun, 20 Jun 2014 - Good people of Scarborough-Agincourt, we give you Liberal Party candidate Arnold Chan. You should vote for him not so much for what Arnold has done - but for what the Conservative Party hasn't. To be precise, the Conservative Party hasn't behaved itself in the Toronto riding, which was formerly the domain of one Jim Karygiannis. This week, the ruling party circulated noxious flyers all over Scarborough-Agincourt, much in the way the Axis used to drop propaganda leaflets on advancing Allied troops. As in that case, the Tory propaganda is unlikely to defeat the Grit forces.
Categories: Latest News

CN ON: Column: Cheech and Cons: Up In Smoke

Top Stories (MAP) - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 07:00
Toronto Sun, 20 Jun 2014 - Good people of Scarborough-Agincourt, we give you Liberal Party candidate Arnold Chan. You should vote for him not so much for what Arnold has done - but for what the Conservative Party hasn't. To be precise, the Conservative Party hasn't behaved itself in the Toronto riding, which was formerly the domain of one Jim Karygiannis. This week, the ruling party circulated noxious flyers all over Scarborough-Agincourt, much in the way the Axis used to drop propaganda leaflets on advancing Allied troops. As in that case, the Tory propaganda is unlikely to defeat the Grit forces.
Categories: Latest News

CN ON: Column: Cheech and Cons: Up In Smoke

Top Stories (MAP) - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 07:00
The Chatham Daily News, 20 Jun 2014 - Take a look at the leaflet in question, if you don't believe us. On one side, there is a photograph of Karygiannis, alongside a quote in which he is critical of the Liberal Party under leader Justin Trudeau. The Conservatives apparently think this is a big deal. Apparently they are unaware that Karygiannis - who stood astride Scarborough-Agincourt, like a Greek colossus of Rhodes, for more than 25 years - has disparaged every Liberal leader for a generation. Karygiannis being critical of Liberal leaders isn't in any way news. The flip side of the glossy Conservative Party leaflet is truly news, however, and voters in the June 30 Scarborough-Agincourt byelection should take note. It is, as Trudeau himself said, disgusting. It is a disgrace.
Categories: Latest News

CN AB: Column: Cheech and Cons: Up In Smoke

Top Stories (MAP) - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 07:00
Fort McMurray Today, 20 Jun 2014 - Good people of Scarborough-Agincourt, we give you Liberal Party candidate Arnold Chan. You should vote for him not so much for what Arnold has done - but for what the Conservative Party hasn't. To be precise, the Conservative Party hasn't behaved itself in the Toronto riding, which was formerly the domain of one Jim Karygiannis. This week, the ruling party circulated noxious flyers all over Scarborough- Agincourt, much in the way the Axis used to drop propaganda leaflets on advancing Allied troops.
Categories: Latest News

CN AB: Column: Cheech and Cons: Up In Smoke

Top Stories (MAP) - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 07:00
The Calgary Sun, 20 Jun 2014 - Good people of Scarborough-Agincourt, we give you Liberal Party candidate Arnold Chan. You should vote for him not so much for what Arnold has done - but for what the Conservative Party hasn't. To be precise, the Conservative Party hasn't behaved itself in the Toronto riding, which was formerly the domain of one Jim Karygiannis. This week, the ruling party circulated noxious flyers all over Scarborough-Agincourt, much in the way the Axis used to drop propaganda leaflets on advancing Allied troops. As in that case, the Tory propaganda is unlikely to defeat the Grit forces.
Categories: Latest News

CN ON: Column: Cheech and Conservatives: Gone Up In Smoke

Top Stories (MAP) - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 07:00
The Recorder & Times, 20 Jun 2014 - Good people of Scarborough-Agincourt, we give you Liberal Party candidate Arnold Chan. You should vote for him not so much for what Arnold has done - but for what the Conservative Party hasn't. To be precise, the Conservative Party hasn't behaved itself in the Toronto riding, which was formerly the domain of one Jim Karygiannis. This week, the ruling party circulated noxious flyers all over Scarborough-Agincourt, much in the way the Axis used to drop propaganda leaflets on advancing Allied troops. As in that case, the Tory propaganda is unlikely to defeat the Grit forces.
Categories: Latest News

Chronicle AM -- June 19, 2014

Drug War Chronicle - Thu, 06/19/2014 - 21:35

We can watch the marijuana policy landscape shift before our eyes, with legalization initiatives and decrim measures popping up around the country and even Oklahoma Republicans arguing over legalization. There is also action on the opiate front, the Senate will vote on defunding the DEA's war on medical marijuana in states where it is legal, and more. Let's get to it:

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

House Fails to Add Rider to Block DC Decriminalization Law. The House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee approved a familiar series of social policy riders on the District of Columbia budget, but did not include one that would seek to undo the city's recent adoption of marijuana decriminalization. It's not a done deal yet, however; such a rider could still be added during the legislative process. The subcommittee did approve riders barring the District from funding needle exchanges or medical marijuana programs.

Delaware Decriminalization Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. A bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and levy a maximum $250 fine passed the House Public Safety Committee today. House Bill 371 now heads for a House floor vote.

Marijuana Policy in the Oklahoma GOP Governor's Race. In next week's GOP primary, sitting Gov. Mary Fallin is up against two longshot opponents who both favor marijuana legalization. Both Chad Moody, also known as "The Drug Lawyer," and Dax Ewbank, a libertarian-leaning Republican, have come out in favor of freeing the weed. But Fallin says that's not on her to-do list: "I just don't see that it provides a substantial benefit to the people of Oklahoma," Fallin said.

Milwaukee Legalization Initiative Signature-Gathering Drive Underway. A coalition of Milwaukee groups have begun a petition drive to place a municipal legalization ordinance on the November ballot. The measure would legalize the possession of up to an ounce. The groups have until July 29 to come up with 30,000 valid voter signatures. People interested in helping out can get more information here.

Philadelphia City Council Votes to Decriminalize Marijuana. The city council today approved a decriminalization measure introduce last month by Councilman Jim Kenney. Up to 30 grams is decriminalized, with a maximum $25 fine. Four years ago this month, the city began treatment small-time possession as a summary offense, with a maximum $200 fine and three-hour class on drug abuse.

Activists Gather Twice the Signatures Needed for York, Maine, Legalization Initiative. Activists supported by the Marijuana Policy Project needed 100 valid voter signatures to present a marijuana legalization petition to the York Board of Selectmen. They handed in 200. Similar petition drives are going on in Lewiston and South Portland, and Portland voters approved a legalization referendum last year. The local efforts are laying the groundwork for a statewide legalization initiative in 2016.

Medical Marijuana

Sens. Rand Paul, Cory Booker Cosponsor DEA Defunding Amendment in Senate; Vote Could Come as Soon as Tonight. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have cosponsored an amendment to the Justice Department funding bill that would shield medical marijuana patients and providers from the attention of the DEA in states where it is legal. The vote could come as soon as tonight or tomorrow. The House passed such an amendment at the end of last month.

New York Governor, Legislature in Tentative Deal as Session Draws to End. With the legislative ticking down its final hours, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and legislative leaders today announced a deal that would allow passage of a medical marijuana pilot program, but would not allow patients to smoke their medicine.

North Carolina Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Wins House Committee Votes. A bill that would allow some patients to use a high-CBD cannabis oil was approved by the House Health Committee Wednesday and the House Finance Committee today.

Drug Policy

Drug Policy in the Colorado GOP Senatorial Race. Former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, who is running for the state's GOP senatorial nomination, is being attacked as a drug legalizer in a radio ad created by a committee supporting former Sen. Mike Copp. While Tancredo supports marijuana legalization and has in the past spoken of the need to consider drug legalization, he says he is not ready to legalize hard drugs and is demanding that the ads be pulled.

Opiates

Vermont Governor Signs Package of Bills Aimed at Opiate Use. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) Tuesday signed into law a package of bills and executive orders that will ramp up treatment for opiate addiction, but also increase penalties for bringing more than one gram of heroin into the state. The centerpiece of the legislative package is Senate Bill 295, which will fund pretrial screening and drug treatment for suspects before they are arraigned.

New York Assembly Set to Approve Package of Heroin Bills. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and key lawmakers announced Tuesday night that they had a deal on a package of heroin bills that would raise awareness of the issue and increase insurance coverage of heroin treatment. What isn't clear is whether they agreement also includes a series of Rockefeller drug law-style measure passed by the Republican-dominated Senate that would increase criminal penalties for some heroin offenses.

Harm Reduction

DC Police Chief Orders No Arrests for Overdose Victims. In a recent memorandum, Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier has instructed her police force to observe protections from arrest and charge granted under a DC law designed to encourage residents to seek immediate medical assistance for a person experiencing an overdose. The Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Amendment Act of 2012 (#A19-564), which was passed by the D.C. Council in 2012 and took effect on March 19, 2013, provides limited legal protection from arrest, charge and prosecution for those who witness or experience a drug overdose and summon medical assistance.

Sentencing

Federal Fair Sentencing Act Picks Up Another Sponsor. And then there were 39. Rep. William Envart (D-IL) has signed on as a cosponsor to the Federal Fair Sentencing Act. That makes 25 Democrats, along with 14 Republicans. It would reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentences and impose retroactivity for crack cocaine sentences handed down before 2010.

International

Britain's Looming Khat Ban Could Create Black Market. A ban on khat is about to go into effect in England, and this report suggests that it could create political tensions in East Africa, as well as creating a black market for the substance in England itself.

Albanian Siege of Marijuana-Producing Village Continues. A police assault on the village of Lazarat that began Monday is still underway as clashes continued between police and armed villagers. Some 800 police are involved in the operation, and they say they have seized or destroyed more than 10 tons of marijuana so far. But that's only a fraction of the 900 tons the village is estimated to produce annually. The town's $6 billion pot crop is equivalent to about half Albania's GDP.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares 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: Latest News

US CO: Column: The Myth Of Cannabis And Teens

Top Stories (MAP) - Thu, 06/19/2014 - 07:00
Boulder Weekly, 19 Jun 2014 - I don't put a lot of faith in surveys, studies or polls, especially on hot-button issues like cannabis, when they are used by advocates or prohibitionists to bolster or attack one point of view or another. I'd like to be able to say, as some are these days, that because crime is down in Colorado in the five months since cannabis went on sale, that legalization is lowering crime. But nothing is that simple. But a survey caught my eye this week. The national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), managed by the national Centers for Disease Control, analyzes health-risk behaviors of youth and adults every two years and though not inclusive, assembles data given by students themselves about their habits and concerns.
Categories: Latest News

What To Do About the Drug Trade in West Africa? [FEATURE]

Drug War Chronicle - Thu, 06/19/2014 - 01:18

Over the past decade, West Africa has emerged as an increasingly important player in the global illicit drug trade. Although the region has historically not been a drug producing one -- with the important exception of marijuana -- it has become a platform for predominantly Latin American drug traffickers moving their illicit commodities toward lucrative European and Middle Eastern markets. The cocaine traffic alone is worth more than a billion dollars a year, according to a 2013 report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

[image:1 align:left caption:true]And the trade is becoming more complex. Now, it's not only cocaine flowing through the region, but heroin destined mainly for Western Europe and methamphetamines being manufactured there and exported to Asia and South Africa, that same UNODC report found.

The region -- stretching along the African coast from Nigeria to the east to Senegal on the west, and extending deep into the Sahara Desert in countries such as Mali and Niger -- is plagued by weak states and corrupt governments, making it attractive to criminals of all sorts, who thrive in lawless lands. And it's not just criminals. The region is also home to various bands of Islamist militants, some of whom are involved in the drug trade.

Now, a commission of prominent West Africans is calling for fundamental changes in drug policies in the region. Last week, the West Africa Commission on Drugs, issued a report, Not Just in Transit: Drugs, the State and Society in West Africa, calling for the decriminalization of drug use, treating drug use primarily as a public health issue, and for the region to avoid becoming the next front line in the failed war on drugs.

The commission is impressive. It was initiated by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan of Nigeria and headed by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and includes other former heads of state as well as a distinguished group of West Africans from the worlds of politics, civil society, health, security and the judiciary.

And so is its very existence. It marks the entrance of West African civil society into the international debate on drug policy in which calls for fundamental drug reform have gained increasing momentum in recent years. In 2008, former Latin American heads of state and other luminaries formed the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, and in 2011, Annan and other world luminaries and former heads of state came together to form the Global Commission on Drug Policy. Now, West Africa adds its voice to the chorus calling for change.

"We call on West African governments to reform drug laws and policies and decriminalize low-level and non-violent drug offenses," said Obasanjo upon the report's release last week. "West Africa is no longer just a transit zone for drugs arriving from South America and ending up in Europe but has become a significant zone of consumption and production. The glaring absence of treatment facilities for drug users fuels the spread of disease and exposes an entire generation, users and non-users alike, to growing public health risks."

"Most governments' reaction to simply criminalize drug use without thinking about prevention or access to treatment has not just led to overcrowded jails, but also worsened health and social problems," added Kofi Annan.

[image:2 align:right caption:true]"We need the active support and involvement of civil society and of the international community," said commission member Edem Kodjo. "South America, where most of the drugs smuggled to West Africa come from, and Europe, which is the main consumer market, must take the lead to deal with both production and consumption at home. We cannot solve this problem alone; governments and civil society have to come together in West Africa to help prevent the drug problem from getting completely out of hand."

The report won kudos from American drug reformer Ethan Nadelmann, head of the Drug Policy Alliance.

"First Europe, then the Americas, now Africa," he said. "Drug policy reform is truly becoming a global movement, with Kofi Annan and Olusegun Obasango providing the sort of bold leadership that we've also seen in Latin America. Maybe, just maybe, West Africa will be spared the fate of other parts of the world where prohibition-related crime, violence and corruption spiraled out of control."

But some analysts, while welcoming the report, suggested that it did not get at the heart of the problem in West Africa.

"The report focuses on public health, and that's great, but I'm not sure that's the issue," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow with the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution who has published extensively on West Africa. "Nor are there generally large prison populations due to the arrests of low-level drug offenders. There is increasing drug use, and many addicts don't have access to public health. That, however is not because they were arrested, but because Africa in general doesn't have access to public health," she pointed out.

"In some senses, the commission report is preventative -- it warns of policies that would be counterproductive -- but it is not going to solve West Africa's problems," Felbab-Brown continued. "And the harm reduction approaches that dominate the discourse in Europe and the US are not really apropos for West African public health issues. The increasing focus of the international community is interdiction, but that accounts for only a small fraction of the total traffic, and the report doesn't deal with what kind of alternate law enforcement there should be, or who should be targeted."

But others thought the criminal justice and public health emphasis in the report were a step down the right path.

"The report's message about alternatives to criminalization for use and minor offenses is important in criminal justice terms -- to discourage the horrible over-representation of minor drug offenders in prisons in the region -- but also as a reminder that there are no such alternatives unless the health and social sectors develop those alternatives," said Joan Csete, deputy director of the Open Society Foundation's Global Drug Policy Program.

"Health ministries need to be as important around the drug policymaking table as the police, which is far from the case in most of Africa today," she added. "Services for treatment of drug dependence in the region are absent or of appalling quality. Improving health and social support for people with drug dependence is a key to drug policy reform in West Africa."

And Felbab-Brown agreed that while measures like drug prevention and treatment wouldn't solve the region's problems, they would still be helpful.

"We're already seeing quite a bit of heroin in the region, and we are seeing increasing use," she said. "These are cheap and prevalent commodities, the traffickers partake in kind, and user communities are being established. In a sense, developing strategies to prevent use, get treatment, and prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C is useful because there are more and more users."

[image:3 align:left caption:true]But for Felbab-Brown, the key problem for West Africa is its weak and corrupt states.

"The big trafficking issues are around the intersection of very poor, very weak, very corrupt, and often very fragile states with state participation in various forms of criminality," she said. "Drugs are just another commodity to be exploited by elites for personal enrichment. Elites are already stealing money from oil, timber, and diamonds, and now there is another resource to exploit for personal enrichment and advancement," she argued.

"One narrative has it that drug trafficking has caused fragility and instability, but I think trafficking compounded the problems; it didn't create them," Felbab-Brown continued. "There is a systematic deficiency of good governance. Many of these states have functioned for decades like mafia bazaars, and the trafficking just augments other rents. There are rotten governments, miserable institutions, and poor leadership around all commodities, not just drugs."

"The states are not monolithic," Csete noted. "Some have high-level corruption, some are aggressive in trying to fight money-laundering and other elements of organized criminal networks, some rely heavily on traditional interdiction methods. Some of these countries have relatively strong democratic systems and relatively strong economic growth; some have governance institutions that are less strong."

The state of the states in West Africa influenced the commission and its recommendations, Csete said.

"Legalization of drugs -- production, sale, consumption -- was not judged to be politically feasible or necessarily desirable by the commission," she explained. "I think the commissioners generally perceive that generally these countries do not yet have a political climate favorable to debate on progressive changes in drug policy. The whole idea of the commission and its report is to open those debates -- high-profile people from the region saying things that sitting officials do not find it politically easy to say."

"These are newer post-colonial states," Felbab-Brown noted. "Are we having unreasonable expectations? Is this like Europe in the 13th Century, or is that some of these countries are doomed to exist in perpetual misgovernance?"

While there may be concern in Western capitals about the specter of West African drug trafficking, many West Africans have other, more pressing, drug policy concerns.

In its 2013 report, the UNODC noted that the importation of fake pharmaceutical drugs from South and Southeast Asia into the region was a problem. Joey Tranchina, a longtime drug policy observer who has recently spent time in Mali, agrees.

"Having traversed Mali from Bamako to Mopti, except for the usual oblique indigenous references to smoking weed, the only personal experience I have with drug crime is counterfeit pharmaceuticals from India, China, and Russia," he said. "They're sold cheap in the streets to people who can't afford regular meds and they take the place of real pharmaceuticals, especially malaria and HIV drugs. These drug scams are killing people in Mali," he said.

"Most people in West Africa don't see drug trafficking as that much of a problem," said Felbab-Brown. "If it's mostly going to Westerners, they say so what? For them it is a mechanism to make money, and those drug traffickers frequently become politicians. They are able to create and reconstitute patronage networks around drug trafficking, just as they were once able to get elected with money from blood diamonds."

It seems that, to the degree that drug use and drug trafficking are West African problems, they are problems inextricably interwoven with the broader issues of weak, fragile, and corrupt states that are unable or unwilling to deliver the goods for their citizens. The West Africa Commission on Drugs has pointed a way toward some solutions and avoiding some failed policies already discredited elsewhere, but it seems clear that that is just the beginning.

Categories: Latest News

What To Do About the Drug Trade in West Africa? [FEATURE]

Top Stories (STDW) - Thu, 06/19/2014 - 01:18

Over the past decade, West Africa has emerged as an increasingly important player in the global illicit drug trade. Although the region has historically not been a drug producing one -- with the important exception of marijuana -- it has become a platform for predominantly Latin American drug traffickers moving their illicit commodities toward lucrative European and Middle Eastern markets. The cocaine traffic alone is worth more than a billion dollars a year, according to a 2013 report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

[image:1 align:left caption:true]And the trade is becoming more complex. Now, it's not only cocaine flowing through the region, but heroin destined mainly for Western Europe and methamphetamines being manufactured there and exported to Asia and South Africa, that same UNODC report found.

The region -- stretching along the African coast from Nigeria to the east to Senegal on the west, and extending deep into the Sahara Desert in countries such as Mali and Niger -- is plagued by weak states and corrupt governments, making it attractive to criminals of all sorts, who thrive in lawless lands. And it's not just criminals. The region is also home to various bands of Islamist militants, some of whom are involved in the drug trade.

Now, a commission of prominent West Africans is calling for fundamental changes in drug policies in the region. Last week, the West Africa Commission on Drugs, issued a report, Not Just in Transit: Drugs, the State and Society in West Africa, calling for the decriminalization of drug use, treating drug use primarily as a public health issue, and for the region to avoid becoming the next front line in the failed war on drugs.

The commission is impressive. It was initiated by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan of Nigeria and headed by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and includes other former heads of state as well as a distinguished group of West Africans from the worlds of politics, civil society, health, security and the judiciary.

And so is its very existence. It marks the entrance of West African civil society into the international debate on drug policy in which calls for fundamental drug reform have gained increasing momentum in recent years. In 2008, former Latin American heads of state and other luminaries formed the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, and in 2011, Annan and other world luminaries and former heads of state came together to form the Global Commission on Drug Policy. Now, West Africa adds its voice to the chorus calling for change.

"We call on West African governments to reform drug laws and policies and decriminalize low-level and non-violent drug offenses," said Obasanjo upon the report's release last week. "West Africa is no longer just a transit zone for drugs arriving from South America and ending up in Europe but has become a significant zone of consumption and production. The glaring absence of treatment facilities for drug users fuels the spread of disease and exposes an entire generation, users and non-users alike, to growing public health risks."

"Most governments' reaction to simply criminalize drug use without thinking about prevention or access to treatment has not just led to overcrowded jails, but also worsened health and social problems," added Kofi Annan.

[image:2 align:right caption:true]"We need the active support and involvement of civil society and of the international community," said commission member Edem Kodjo. "South America, where most of the drugs smuggled to West Africa come from, and Europe, which is the main consumer market, must take the lead to deal with both production and consumption at home. We cannot solve this problem alone; governments and civil society have to come together in West Africa to help prevent the drug problem from getting completely out of hand."

The report won kudos from American drug reformer Ethan Nadelmann, head of the Drug Policy Alliance.

"First Europe, then the Americas, now Africa," he said. "Drug policy reform is truly becoming a global movement, with Kofi Annan and Olusegun Obasango providing the sort of bold leadership that we've also seen in Latin America. Maybe, just maybe, West Africa will be spared the fate of other parts of the world where prohibition-related crime, violence and corruption spiraled out of control."

But some analysts, while welcoming the report, suggested that it did not get at the heart of the problem in West Africa.

"The report focuses on public health, and that's great, but I'm not sure that's the issue," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow with the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution who has published extensively on West Africa. "Nor are there generally large prison populations due to the arrests of low-level drug offenders. There is increasing drug use, and many addicts don't have access to public health. That, however is not because they were arrested, but because Africa in general doesn't have access to public health," she pointed out.

"In some senses, the commission report is preventative -- it warns of policies that would be counterproductive -- but it is not going to solve West Africa's problems," Felbab-Brown continued. "And the harm reduction approaches that dominate the discourse in Europe and the US are not really apropos for West African public health issues. The increasing focus of the international community is interdiction, but that accounts for only a small fraction of the total traffic, and the report doesn't deal with what kind of alternate law enforcement there should be, or who should be targeted."

But others thought the criminal justice and public health emphasis in the report were a step down the right path.

"The report's message about alternatives to criminalization for use and minor offenses is important in criminal justice terms -- to discourage the horrible over-representation of minor drug offenders in prisons in the region -- but also as a reminder that there are no such alternatives unless the health and social sectors develop those alternatives," said Joan Csete, deputy director of the Open Society Foundation's Global Drug Policy Program.

"Health ministries need to be as important around the drug policymaking table as the police, which is far from the case in most of Africa today," she added. "Services for treatment of drug dependence in the region are absent or of appalling quality. Improving health and social support for people with drug dependence is a key to drug policy reform in West Africa."

And Felbab-Brown agreed that while measures like drug prevention and treatment wouldn't solve the region's problems, they would still be helpful.

"We're already seeing quite a bit of heroin in the region, and we are seeing increasing use," she said. "These are cheap and prevalent commodities, the traffickers partake in kind, and user communities are being established. In a sense, developing strategies to prevent use, get treatment, and prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C is useful because there are more and more users."

[image:3 align:left caption:true]But for Felbab-Brown, the key problem for West Africa is its weak and corrupt states.

"The big trafficking issues are around the intersection of very poor, very weak, very corrupt, and often very fragile states with state participation in various forms of criminality," she said. "Drugs are just another commodity to be exploited by elites for personal enrichment. Elites are already stealing money from oil, timber, and diamonds, and now there is another resource to exploit for personal enrichment and advancement," she argued.

"One narrative has it that drug trafficking has caused fragility and instability, but I think trafficking compounded the problems; it didn't create them," Felbab-Brown continued. "There is a systematic deficiency of good governance. Many of these states have functioned for decades like mafia bazaars, and the trafficking just augments other rents. There are rotten governments, miserable institutions, and poor leadership around all commodities, not just drugs."

"The states are not monolithic," Csete noted. "Some have high-level corruption, some are aggressive in trying to fight money-laundering and other elements of organized criminal networks, some rely heavily on traditional interdiction methods. Some of these countries have relatively strong democratic systems and relatively strong economic growth; some have governance institutions that are less strong."

The state of the states in West Africa influenced the commission and its recommendations, Csete said.

"Legalization of drugs -- production, sale, consumption -- was not judged to be politically feasible or necessarily desirable by the commission," she explained. "I think the commissioners generally perceive that generally these countries do not yet have a political climate favorable to debate on progressive changes in drug policy. The whole idea of the commission and its report is to open those debates -- high-profile people from the region saying things that sitting officials do not find it politically easy to say."

"These are newer post-colonial states," Felbab-Brown noted. "Are we having unreasonable expectations? Is this like Europe in the 13th Century, or is that some of these countries are doomed to exist in perpetual misgovernance?"

While there may be concern in Western capitals about the specter of West African drug trafficking, many West Africans have other, more pressing, drug policy concerns.

In its 2013 report, the UNODC noted that the importation of fake pharmaceutical drugs from South and Southeast Asia into the region was a problem. Joey Tranchina, a longtime drug policy observer who has recently spent time in Mali, agrees.

"Having traversed Mali from Bamako to Mopti, except for the usual oblique indigenous references to smoking weed, the only personal experience I have with drug crime is counterfeit pharmaceuticals from India, China, and Russia," he said. "They're sold cheap in the streets to people who can't afford regular meds and they take the place of real pharmaceuticals, especially malaria and HIV drugs. These drug scams are killing people in Mali," he said.

"Most people in West Africa don't see drug trafficking as that much of a problem," said Felbab-Brown. "If it's mostly going to Westerners, they say so what? For them it is a mechanism to make money, and those drug traffickers frequently become politicians. They are able to create and reconstitute patronage networks around drug trafficking, just as they were once able to get elected with money from blood diamonds."

It seems that, to the degree that drug use and drug trafficking are West African problems, they are problems inextricably interwoven with the broader issues of weak, fragile, and corrupt states that are unable or unwilling to deliver the goods for their citizens. The West Africa Commission on Drugs has pointed a way toward some solutions and avoiding some failed policies already discredited elsewhere, but it seems clear that that is just the beginning.

Categories: Latest News

Medical Marijuana Update

Drug War Chronicle - Thu, 06/19/2014 - 00:02

High drama in New York as a medical marijuana bill goes down to the wire, congressmembers call on HHS to help unblock marijuana research, a limited CBD medical marijuana bill becomes law in another Southern state, and more. Let's get to it:

[image:1 align:right]National

Last Tuesday, federal regulators warned casinos not to take bets made with marijuana money. Federal regulators addressing a banking secrecy conference in Las Vegas warned casinos they can't accept bets from people working in the marijuana industry unless the casinos undertake rigorous background checks and allow the federal government to monitor the bets. That's because casinos are subject to the same financial reporting requirements as financial institutions. It's a lengthy report; click on the link to read it all.

On Tuesday, 30 congressmembers called on HHS to end roadblocks to medical marijuana research. Thirty members of Congress led by Rep. Earl Blumenaur (D-OR) have sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Mathews Burkwell calling on her to make the process for obtaining marijuana for research purposes less onerous.

California

Last Thursday, the Blythe city council moved to overturn a dispensary ban. The council voted to authorize city staff to draft an ordinance to repeal the ban put in place in 2010 and introduce a new ordinance to allow dispensaries under strict guidelines.

Also last Thursday, the California Coastal Commission approved San Diego's new medical marijuana ordinance. The approval means parts of Barrio Logan and Sorrento Valley can be added to the short list of neighborhoods where dispensaries can operate.

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana regulation bill won an Assembly committee vote. Senate Bill 1262, sponsored by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), would create the first statewide regulation of medical marijuana. It passed the Assembly Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee and now heads for the Assembly Public Safety Committee. It has already passed the Senate.

Florida

On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed a limited CBD medical marijuana bill into law. He signed the "Charlotte's Web" bill (Senate Bill 1030), which allows a small number of patients to use high-CBD, low-THC cannabis oils for the treatment of epilepsy or cancer.

District of Columbia

On Tuesday, the DC Council moved toward expanding medical marijuana access. In a joint session of the Health and Judiciary and Public Safety committees, the council gave preliminary approval to two bills. Bill 20-766, cosponsored by every member of the council, would repeal the qualifying conditions list and allow physicians to recommend marijuana to any patient they think marijuana would benefit. Bill 20-678, would increase the number of plants a cultivation center could possess from 95 to 500, better ensuring that patient need is met.

Kentucky

Last Friday, the Kentucky VFW passed a resolution supporting medical marijuana for vets. The Kentucky state convention of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) passed a resolution calling on the national VFW to support medical marijuana access for veterans through the Veterans Administration. The VA should begin "post haste" to provide medical marijuana to vets through VA Hospital System pharmacies, the resolution said. The resolution will be brought up at the VFW national convention in St. Louis next month.

New Mexico

On Tuesday, the state Department of Health got an earful over its proposed new medical marijuana program rules. Proposals to reduce the number of plants patients can grow, impose stricter testing requirements, and increase fees are all proving unpopular. So is the department's insistence on holding the hearing Tuesday instead of postponing it to allow more time for people to respond to the proposed rules.

New York

As of Wednesday, the Compassionate Use Act was still alive, but just barely. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) rejected the Compassionate Use Act Tuesday, just two days before the state's legislative session ends. Legislators are working to revise the bill in a manner acceptable to Cuomo, and he has signaled he was willing to waive legislative rules to allow a late bill to be introduced.

Oklahoma

On Monday, medical marijuana initiative signature-gatherers complained of harassment by the Tulsa Police. Signature-gatherers for the state's medical marijuana initiative say that on at least four occasions, Tulsa Police have shown up to harass them. Police asked signature-gatherers to leave, then, when they asserted their right to petition, began asking for identification and doing background checks on them. Tulsa Police, for their part, said they had records of two calls reporting that signature-gatherers were selling marijuana. But no one was arrested for selling marijuana or anything else, and the campaign group Oklahomans for Health said its people were not selling or advertising marijuana. The group said it has asked the ACLU of Oklahoma for assistance.

South Carolina

Last Tuesday, state Democrats voted overwhelmingly for medical marijuana in a non-binding primary question. South Carolina Democrats voting in the party primary Tuesday supported a non-binding question about allowing for medical marijuana use by a margin of three-to-one. The state passed a limited CBD medical marijuana bill this year, but that will only help a small number of patients.

For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

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